By Daniel Chejfec
It is no secret that many in the Jewish community have taken up advocacy for the Darfur victims. I , for one, feel strongly about the situation and would like to see it confronted and ended by the international community. There are, however, some differences in the reasons why American Jews have taken up the advocacy role and I do not necessarily agree with all of them, even when I welcome the action itself.
Some of the Jewish advocates of Darfur do it because they see the situation of Darfur as a proof of the worst qualities of Israel's enemies; after all, these are Arabs killing Black Muslims... In a way, I agree with the assessment, but I feel that this should not be the reason mobilizing people to action...
Others in the Jewish community feel that if we are to allow the massacres in Darfur to go on, it would be making a mockery of our motto "never again", and all of our advocacy to keep the memory of the Holocaust as a warning to humanity would amount to nothing. Again, I agree...if we truly want to honor the victims of the Nazi regime, it is important that we point out all forms of Genocide and actively oppose them. But again, seeing Darfur advocacy as an extension of the Holocaust lessons should not be the main motivator for Jews to get involved.
So what should be in my opinion the main motivator for Jews to get involved in Darfur advocacy? - Our Jewishness!. In the XVIII and XIX Centuries in Europe, European societies took their Christian heritage and secularized it giving birth to a new Europe with a separation between public and private life that would eventually lead to the separation of religion of politics, but in the context of those religious values that created European civilization becoming part and parcel of its secular society. Many of the values associated with Christian morality became associated with the new society but devoid of its Divine associations. In other words, to understand Modern European Humanism, it is important to understand its Christian roots. In the same way, to pick up the banner of Jewish Humanism it is important to understand that its morality is rooted in the religious beliefs of our ancestors.
"I give you life so you will choose life and you and your children and your children's child will live in the land that I gave to your fathers..." This quote from the Torah is clear: Life is important and should be honored. This value is present in much of what we do as Jews, both in term of religious practice and among those who see themselves as "just Jews" or "secular Jews". Life must be preserved and that value is being violated in Darfur. The wholesale extermination of the Black tribes in Southern Sudan makes a mockery of the value of life. As Jews, we should rise up to it and pick up the banner of life.
Our Rabbis in the Talmud had many discussion, and as we well know they never agree on anything but every discussion was an opportunity for a lively exchange of ideas. In one of such discussions, the Rabbis asked themselves why did God create only one original couple instead of many? The best answer I read is that so no person could say "my father was better than yours", since we are all the children of Adam and Eve. Human equality is a deeply rooted value in Jewish society. People should not be judged by the color of their skins or by the beliefs, but by what they do as individuals; and the collective judgment of a group falls out of bounds. The killing in Darfur is based on a clearly racial prejudice intended to uproot a group seen as different from what the Sudan government wants. As Jews, we should defend the rights of the Darfur tribes to their own culture.
But again, in Jewish culture a person is not judged by intention but by actions. What defines an individual is not his/her beliefs but her/his actions. Living by the values of the Torah as a blueprint for Human interaction is what is expected of a Jew in our religious traditions, and the same exacting standards found their way into secular Jewish society over the last two hundred years. To preserve Jewish identity is to act out of our deepest Jewish motivations, be they religious or secular. The connection of our actions to "politically correct" language is incidental and not the reason why we should act. Our convictions as Jews must be grounded in our Jewish values. I value the traditions of my people and I believe that honoring them will most of the time lead me to the right moral side of issues, or at least to a healthy self-doubt.
So you see, I agree that Darfur uncovers the immoral actions of the Sudanese government, and I agree that if we let Darfur happen the lessons of the Holocaust are lost. I do, however, believe that action is Darfur must be taken simply because it is the right things to do to uphold our Jewish heritage...