Sometimes, It Takes a Village
Judy Hellman is the Associate Director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee in Overland Park, Kansas, serving the state of Kansas and western Missouri. All views expressed are her own.
If you give people the information and the opportunity, the response can be amazing and gratifying. A few weeks ago, Rabbi Alan Cohen, Director of Interreligious Affairs of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, mentioned he had chosen to participate in the Religious Action Center's rolling fast for Darfur, begun by Rabbi David Saperstein, by fasting on August 13. Our colleague, Executive Director Marvin Szneler, and I said we wanted to fast with him. And it grew from there - we decided to make it a community fast and invite others to join us.
We were fortunate in having terrific publicity in The Kansas City Star (my op-ed is here, and a fuller story is here, Kansas City Jewish Chronicle and our city's two black newspapers, The Call and The Globe, as well as a piece on the local NPR station. We began to hear from people in and around the Greater Kansas City area, as well as in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and the United Kingdom. They were planning to fast and/or attend our evening program, where we will provide an update, a study session and, of course, refreshments. A Protestant minister in an area north of the city invited Rabbi Cohen to hold the same program and lead the study session at his church so it would be more convenient for people in those neighborhoods to attend. Friends in the Jewish community in Topeka participated, and a Baptist College in Liberty, Missouri is planning a similar program to be held after school starts.
It seems to us that when people are reminded about the situation in Darfur, or they learn of it for the first time, their hearts are touched. There are many people around here whose stomachs are growling, and who also have answered our suggestion to donate the money they would have spent on food to the Solar Cooker Project of Jewish World Watch instead. Our Kansas and western Missouri Senators and Representatives now know that a large number of us care enough to go hungry - Kansas Representative Jerry Moran's office even called to offer his support - and we will write to remind them of that, along with sending postcards to President Obama. Almost 99 people in this area fasted on August 13th, and to date, $1,100 has been contributed to purchase Solar Cookers for the women in refugee camps in Chad.
As a Jew who remembers when we could not save our brothers and sisters from the Nazi Holocaust, the cries of the victims of genocide in Darfur echo in my soul. I went hungry on August 13th, but I knew I'd be eating in a few hours and that I wouldn't go to bed or wake up hungry - would that the people in Darfur, Chad and everywhere around the world could say the same thing.