By Miriam Rinn
Former Communications Director, JCC Association
Originally featured in the summer 2006 issue of JCC Circle.
The rally to protest the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan took place on the Washington mall on April 30, with hundreds of buses disgorging their thousands of riders to stand pressed against each other on the wide lawn in front of the Capitol. The people filling those buses represented the great diversity of the Jewish community: black-hatted yeshiva bochers stood next to members of the Reform Action Committee; adolescent Brandeis University students jostled with mature Haddasah ladies; suburban parents with toddlers on their shoulders cheered right next to hipsters bearing “Vegan Jews Against Genocide” signs.
The Save Darfur Coalition, the assembly of over one hundred religious, humanitarian, and human-rights groups that organized the rally, began on July 14 when the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and American Jewish World Service presented a Darfur Emergency Summit at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. It seems that networking is important when trying to save humanity, too. The JCC in Manhattan’s assistant executive director, Joy Levitt, is a good friend of Ruth Messinger, the director of AJWS, according to Sarah Kay, the director of community programs at the JCC. “As Ruth became more passionate about the crisis, Joy came back to us and said, What are the ways we can actualize this struggle in the Jewish community. How can we say that this is central to our mission?” According to Kay, the JCC feels the job of a community center is to create a town hall, whether it’s an actual meeting site or a neutral zone for discussion of issues affecting the community.
As plans for the rally developed, the JCC in Manhattan, along with the Suffolk Y JCC on Long Island, became the organizing entity in the New York metropolitan area. The JCC website offered more than fifty links for people to sign up to go to the rally with groups of their choosing. Eventually, over one hundred and fifty organizations participated, Kay said. “People were calling me faster than I was calling anyone else.” Synagogues jumped on the bandwagon, along with day schools, JCCs, and other Jewish groups. “Once we provided the remotest way for people to do something tangible, they leaped,” Kay said, which reflected the desire of people within and without the Jewish community to take some action. Young people, especially, resonated to the call. “We brought about two thousand teens. They were amazing. The Jewish day schools were out in full force.”
– Arnie Preminger, executive director, Friedberg JCC
Why is the political situation in an obscure part of a little-known country on the other side of the world the concern of the JCC Movement or of the Jewish community? “I think there are a lot of answers,” said Kay. “[The Jewish community] suddenly realized if we spend another 60 years talking about what happened to us [during the Holocaust], then there are responsibilities.” Wolf agreed that the Darfur situation speaks to Jewish anxiety about genocide, and the Jewish value of not standing idly by while another’s blood is spilled. “We’ve all got somebody who was killed in the Holocaust,” Wolf said. Attending the rally underlined that “when we say ‘never again,’ we really mean never again.” And the moral issue in Darfur seems very clear, unlike other contemporary political questions. After all, who is for genocide? “For a lot of people, being involved in an issue that’s black and white is a luxury,” said Kay.
At a follow-up meeting at the JCC in Manhattan, Ruth Messinger reported on what has happened in Darfur since the rally. A tentative peace agreement was signed by the government and the largest rebel group, but the violence hasn’t stopped, and there is not enough food for the refugees. Messinger said she was hopeful but not optimistic. “The people we went to Washington for are no better off, and they won’t be unless we keep the pressure on.”
Whether JCC members have the ability to stop the slaughter of innocent people in Darfur is not the point, according to Joel Block, executive director of the Suffolk Y. “What we all felt, and Arnie [Preminger, executive director of the Friedberg JCC] and I both said this, is that there are things that are going on in the world that we have to speak out about. We can’t fix it, but we all have to speak out.”
MERAGE JCC TEENS MAKE A FASHION STATEMENT AND RAISE OVER $3,500 FOR DARFUR GENOCIDE VICTIMS
Teens at the Merage JCC of Orange County in Irvine, California turned their passion for fashion into a mitzvah project that raised over $3,500 for the victims of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. On April 6, Kareen Fogel, 16, Margo Zeve, 16, and Leigh Sarembock, 15, organized the event to benefit SAVING (Saving All Victims In Need Globally), under the direction of Merage JCC Teen Director Audra Martin.
When Margo returned from Camp Ramah in California having learned of the atrocity in Darfur, she told Kareen and Leigh, and the three of them wanted to do what they could to help. They tried petitioning at their school, but felt that they could do more. Then Audra Martin approached Kareen about organizing an event to attract teens to the JCC. The three girls love fashion, and so they decided to put on a fashion show, with Audra as their supervisor and guide. This was the girl’s first benefit, not to mention first fashion show. They decided to donate all proceeds to the Jewish World Watch foundation, which provides aid to the victims in Darfur. They sold tickets for $10 to JCC members and $15 to the public. They also asked for additional donations and brought in a “wishing well” where members of the audience could make contributions.
The girls chose models and stores that were willing to donate their time and materials. The male and female models were all JCC members and ranged in age from eighth graders to college freshman. The JCC Myers Theater was reconfigured with a professional looking runway and lights. Over 200 members and friends came to check out the hottest teen styles and watch their favorite teen models strut their stuff on the runway in support of their great cause.