Sanctifying the body

Yom HaShoah and Darfur

Today, the 27th day of the month of Nissan, is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. We mourn the millions who perished in the Shoah: six million Jews, tens of thousands of Roma, along with gays and lesbians, disabled people, Communist sympathizers, and others the Nazis considered "inferior." Surely the attempt to destroy a people is one of the worst abominations human history can encompass.

The obligation to remember the Shoah has two components: memory, and action. If our memory of the Shoah is to have any meaning, it must impel us to act against other attempted genocides. We  respond to the Shoah with devastation, and outrage, and sorrow: and we must also respond by wiping genocide from the face of the earth. To me, that means the best way to observe Yom HaShoah is to make a donation to one of the organizations working to end the genocide happening today in Darfur, Sudan.

Sudan has become today's world capital of human pain, suffering and agony. There, one part of the population has been - and still is - subjected by another part, the dominating part, to humiliation, hunger and death. For a while, the so-called civilized world knew about it and preferred to look away. Now people know. And so they have no excuse for their passivity bordering on indifference. --Elie Wiesel

That's from a speech that Mr. Wiesel, himself a survivor of the Shoah, gave last summer. He cited the Biblical prohibition against standing idly by while the blood of a fellow human is shed, noting that the Torah uses the word reakha -- not akhikha, "your brother," but reakha, "your fellow human being." Akhikha might imply that we are bound to act if someone related to (or similar to) ourselves is suffering; reakha implies that the obligation holds firm regardless of who is victimized. Torah instructs us to act against what is happening in Darfur. And if that's not enough, our living memory of the Shoah, when we ourselves were the victims of attempted genocide, should spur us to do so.

Ruth Messinger, too, urges us, as Jews, to take action against the genocide in Darfur. So does Shoah survivor Nessie Godin. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers an alert page about the emergency in Darfur, along with a photo essay by former Marine Brian Steidle. The photos aren't easy to look at, but they're important. Also difficult, and important, are these children's drawings done by Sudanese refugee children, which you may have seen in last weekend's Sunday New York Times Magazine, and which I first encountered here at "...My Heart's in Accra".

The Holocaust Museum provides a useful list of Five Things You Can Do to help prevent genocide. But I think the simplest things we can do are 1) get informed, and 2) donate whatever we can spare. If you're commemorating the memory of those lost in the Shoah today, let your mourning move you forward. Learn about the genocide in Sudan and then do what you can to help stop it. Donate to the American Jewish World Service (you can check a box to ensure that your whole donation goes to relief efforts in Darfur.) If you prefer, you can choose another humanitarian organization to support; here's a partial list.

Today my most fervent prayer is that we will wake up; that we will take action; that the killing and suffering will cease; and that next year, when Yom HaShoah rolls around, I won't have to post about this again. Kein yehi ratzon.


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