As both Hanukkah and Christmas approach I get concerned about Silent Night. I am not referring to the song sung by carolers, but of silence during dark moments, of not speaking and not acting when the situation demands our words and deeds. From Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), we learn that there is a time for silence and a time for speaking. In the face of danger and injustice, however, we must not sit back quietly.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, recently published a book, To Heal a Fractured World: The ethics of responsibility. Here Rabbi Sacks lays out the Jewish case for morality and ethical behavior.
He states: 'The greatest danger facing Western societies today is the sense of powerlessness, of a world running out of control, of problems too great to solve and hatreds too deep to cure.'
Rabbi Sacks continues, 'To know that God empowers us to take risks, to forgive our failings, lifts us when we fall and believes in us more than we believe in ourselves ' that is one way, the best I know to write, in the record of our days, a story worth leaving as our legacy to those come after us, of whose future we are the guardians.'
Rabbi Sacks also notes that 'every good act, every healing gesture, lights a candle of hope in a dark world.'
As Hanukkah approaches, we prepare to fill our homes with multi-colored light, to sing and celebrate. However, our candles can be symbols not only of a fight against oppression fought long ago, but symbols of hope in today's pained world. These candles ' hanerot hallalu ' can illuminate not just our own homes, but those of people who are in dire need, today.
Darfur, in Western Sudan, is a place that needs our light. It fits a description of hell. We don't hear much about it in the press, but reports that reach us describe acts of horror ' rapes, kidnappings, enslavement of children, forcible removal of people from their homes, murder. In the Sept. 10, 2004 Washington Post, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell described the crimes there as genocide. You can find background information on Darfur at http://www.savedarfur.org.
Ruth Messinger, executive director of American Jewish World Service, was in Chad, just over the border from Sudan in November, and reported in Seattle earlier this month about what she had seen. Ms. Messinger urged us to take action. The JTNews accorded her words front-page status. She reminded us that we cannot stand by when we know genocide is occurring ' otherwise our asking why the world did not speak up during the Shoah rings hollow. 'Never again' has to be for all times and places.
How can we make a difference?
' Educate yourself and others. An excellent Web site is that of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism, at http://rac.org/advocacy/issues/issuesudan/sudangen/
' Raise awareness ' yours and that of others.
' Communicate with elected officials. Meet with them. Send them letters and postcards.
The issue has been raised in Congress, with the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (HR 3127), a bi-partisan piece of legislation with over 106 co-sponsors. The bill's provisions include providing sanctions for perpetrators of genocide and other crimes against humanity as well as adding troops and envoys to report back to the White House and Congress. Only two of Washington's representatives have signed on as co-sponsors. The Senate passed its own version of the legislation several weeks ago. Contact your representative ' if you are unsure who to contact, http://www.house.gov/writerep/ for assistance.
' Purchase Dolls for Darfur (http://www.dollsfordarfur.org). These worry dolls are visual representations of the suffering people in Sudan.
' Join the Green Ribbon Campaign by wearing a green ribbon, button, or rubber bracelet to support the innocent people at risk of death in the Sudanese region of Darfur, and in memory of those already dead. Use the ribbon as an opportunity to explain to others the importance of the cause. Green bracelets can be purchased through the Save Darfur coalition Web site at http://www.savedarfur.org.
' You can send a check to Save Darfur Coalition, 1000 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 802, Washington, D.C. 20036.
' Call President Bush as 202-456-1111 and ask him to assert U.S. leadership to create security in Darfur through an international peacekeeping force, with an expanded mandate to protect all citizens. Pledges to make these calls can be registered at http://www.darfurcalls.org.
Let me finish by once more quoting Rabbi Jonathon Sacks. 'The people I have met who have lit candles in other people's lives have given me the strength to carry on,' he says. On this Hanukkah, may we all light candles that provide warmth, safety and strength to those who need it most.
Rabbi David Fine is the director of the Pacific Northwest Council of the Union for Reform Judaism. He works with Reform congregations in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.