Or Ami Congregant Laurie Tragen-Boykoff and President Susan Gould led a contingent of over 179 Or Ami members and friends during Jewish World Watch‘s Walk for Darfur. The 1000 person strong march sought to raise awareness, support and funds to end the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan that has killed 400,000 Darfuris and forced more than 2 million people to become refugees. As the largest synagogue contingent, Or Ami proudly carried the Walk for Darfur banner and I was honored with the opportunity to address the crowd. Fired up by the commitment of so many to stand up against genocide, I said:
I am holding in my hand a Kiddush cup (okay, it’s a water bottle but only because I forgot the Kiddush cup at home). Many of us raise a similar cup on Erev Shabbat while sitting at the Shabbat table in the comfort of our own homes. Surrounded by family. Or maybe friends. Maybe you are just enjoying a quiet Shabbat at home alone. The candles lit. And you raise a cup of wine or grape juice. Kiddush, that prayer of holiness, is recited. And just before you drink, someone always calls out “l’chaim – to life!”
We Jews are a people who value life, sanctify life, we say, “L’chaim”. At every simcha (joyous time), on every holy day, whenever we can, we raise a glass to say “L’chaim.” Yet “L’chaim,” is not enough, because it is not enough for us to sit around our tables in comfort and contentment, to wish and hope. Jewish tradition calls upon us, instead, to get up and act, with passion and intention, until everyone else can say “L’chaim” with smiles on their faces and peace in their hearts.
So let me teach you another Hebrew phrase, the one which explains why Laurie Tragen-Boykoff (our synagogue JWW chair), 170 Congregation Or Ami members, and why more than 1000 of us have gathered together here today. It’s from Torah. Repeat it after me: Lo ta’amod (Lo ta’amod) // al dam ray-eh-cha (al dam ray-eh-cha). Again: Lo ta’amod (Lo ta’amod) // al dam ray-eh-cha (al dam ray-eh-cha). It means “Don’t stand idly by, while your neighbor bleeds.” Let me hear it: Don’t stand idly by (Don’t stand idly by) // while your neighbor bleeds (while your neighbor bleeds). Again. Lo ta’amod. Don’t stand idly by.
Lo ta’amod… don’t stand idly by.
- When our people were burning in Hitler’s fires, and the nations of the world claimed innocence or worse, we Jews countered, with tears in our eyes (say it after me): Lo Ta’amod – Don’t stand idly by.
- When our government knew that bombing the concentration camp railroad tracks would have killed many but saved hundreds of thousands more, we begged (say it after me): Lo Ta’amod – Don’t stand idly by.
And yet, they did. And yet, our government did. And yet, the world did. Too many who knew, did… nothing.
The Holocaust is a stain upon humanity. Stained with the blood of our brothers and sisters and millions of others.
We declared “Never Again!” But “Never again” was a slogan. It was a call to remember. Lo Ta’amod is a mitzvah. It is a call to act. It’s not enough to remind them that our blood ran red. We know that everyone’s blood runs red. Lo Ta’amod goads us to stop all that unnecessary blood from flowing.
So today we declare:
- Since we know about the purposeful, planned, systematic attempt to wipe out the people of Darfur, and we cry out together (say it): Lo Ta’amod – Don’t stand idly by.
- Since we know about the use of rape, to terrorize and control women, to harm this generation and taint the next, we insist – of ourselves and our governments: Lo Ta’amod – Don’t stand idly by.
- And since we know about the continued attacks on the refugee camps in Chad, where innocent Darfuris have gathered seeking shelter, we demand – of ourselves and the world: Lo Ta’amod – Don’t stand idly by.
Let these 1000 voices be heard throughout the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys, the Simi and San Gabriel Valleys, and all over Los Angeles, and California, all over America and throughout the world, that we expect, we insist, we demand… (Let them hear it): Lo Ta’amod – Don’t stand idly by.
May God bless the work of Jewish World Watch, of her partners and supporters, of all of you, for giving up your Sunday morning to answer the call of Torah. Lo Ta’amod – WE WON’T STAND IDLY BY! Amen!