Tag: jewish world watch

Don’t Lose Sleep… Stand Up and Walk!

We all lose sleep worrying about things.
For me, it’s about
The health of my parents and inlaws
My kids’ latest challenges
The illness facing a beloved member of our community

Fundamentally though I – like so many other American Jews – rest pretty easily because we know that as Americans, as Jews, and as human beings we are protected by the strength and democracy that is the United States. Most of us don’t have to worry about being battered because of our religions. Being slammed because of our nationality. Being violated because of our gender.

Yet I have memories, vivid memories, of a different experience, born of stories told and shared about the horrors inflicted upon my European Jewish ancestors who, in the midst of World War II, were singled out for violence and murder. Just because they were Jews. And every time I read about the Holocaust or view a video or artifact from that time, I tremble with the burning question: why?

Why were humans so brutal and hate filled?
Why did newspapers, including the New York Times, so willing to bury truths abou the situation in the unread middle of the paper?
Why were American so silent in the face of Jewish suffering?

And I choke down the other, equally horrifying question:
Could it happen again?
To us?
To anyone?

Apparently hate is alive and well worldwide. 
According to Jewish World Watch, the Jewish community’s hands-on leader in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities, in addition to the continuing deteriorating situations in the Sudan and in the Congo, 19 other countries worldwide are experiencing conflicts at high risk of escalating into genocide.

It is too easy to ignore what is happening. It is too easy to allow the baseless hatred to infiltrate across borders and through countries, murdering innocents for fun and political gain. Holocaust survivor and moral voice Elie Wiesel said that “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” 

Na’ama Haviv, Assistant Director of Jewish World Watch, teaches that the opposite of hate is not love, but compassion. And boy, does the Or Ami community ever live with compassion! Thank you for all you do!

Would you make this vow with me?

Whenever I can, I will raise up my voice, and inconvenience myself, to endure that I can go to sleep worried about the first list and not survival of myself and my people.

Walk the Walk with Me
Join me on the Los Angeles Walk to End Genocide, sponsored by Jewish World Watch, on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Team Congregation Or Ami is putting together a huge delegation to again help lead the walk. Sign up today to walk, or if you cannot attend, sign up to to support our team.

Because the Shoah was atrocious.
Because genocide still rears it’s ugly head in far off places like Sudan and the Congo.
Because never again needs to be more than a slogan. It needs to be a way of living. And
Because the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.

The Antidote to Compassion Fatigue OR Just Get Up Off Your Tush and Get Walking

Five years…

  • Five years of walking to end genocide.
  • Five years of showing up, standing up and demanding an end to the wholesale slaughter of human beings.
  • Five years to contemplate whether our participation makes a difference.

There is renewed killing in Darfur. They are still raping women by the hundreds of thousands in the Congo.  And we are still walking to end genocide – with Jewish World Watch – five years later.

Some people chose to stay home this year, in part because they feel like nothing is changing. We call this compassion fatigue. About it, our ancient rabbis wrote in Pirkei Avot: Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor; v’lo ata ben chorin l’hitbatel mimenah – it is not your responsibility to finish the task; but neither are you free to shrug off your part. We Jews do our part, being upstanders. Standing up for what is right; showing up to make sure our voices are heard.

So Congregation Or Ami did. For the fourth year in a row, our synagogue brought the largest delegation and raised the most money to expand awareness about genocide around the world. Though we joked that this year is the last year – end genocide this week or we are done walking – but we know this is not true.


  • Because Lo ta’amod al dam rei-acha – Torah teaches us that we cannot stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds.
  • Because our voices at past marches – combined with those of others around the country –  (1) convinced President Obama to appoint a special envoy to the Darfur region, and (2) supported the international Criminal Court as it indicted Sudan’s president for his actions supporting the genocide, and (3) helped build international support for the referendum which led to southern Sudan’s vote to secede from the Sudan, and (4) began the pressure in the US and the state of California to boycott Conflict Minerals from the Congo, which according to people in the know has slowed down some of the enslavement by rebel groups in the Congo.
  • And because Kedoshim Tehiyu – the Torah’s call that you shall be holy – is based not on our beliefs but on our actions. When we act ethically, or as the prophet Micah counseled us, pursuing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before God – then, and only then, can we claim the title of being holy.

So push through the compassion fatigue and get out and walk. Our voices are heard and our footsteps felt.

Thank you to Or Ami’s Walk chair Laurie Tragen-Boykoff for motivating so many of us. Mazel tov also to Program Director Marsha Rothpan who was one of the two JWW coordinators of the whole Walk, and to Youth Advisor Michelle Westmiller who as JWW Student Activism Coordinator helped put on this amazing Walk.

April Fools… If Only

I presume that back in the 1930’s and ’40’s many people – Europeans, Americans, Jews particularly – thought that the whispers about concentration camps were someone’s ideas of a bad April Fools joke. After all, who could imagine that while they were sitting comfortably in their homes, people “out there” somewhere were planning and facilitating the genocide of a whole people. One person’s humorless joke is another people’s death sentence.

Talmud teaches us – Al tifrosh min hatzibur – don’t separate yourself from the community (Pirkei Avot 2:4). What does that mean?  For Purim’s Queen Esther, it meant realizing her responsibility when Mordechai warned her that she could not escape the evil that had befallen the kingdom. For us, it means realizing, when we try listening for the punchline and thus allow people to perpetrate large scale, systematic acts of violence, especially during a time of global economic malaise, the evil can quickly spread… and perhaps in our direction. If we separate ourselves from the world community, we give permission to others to expand their violence “to a loved one nearer to you.”

That’s why I believe every Jew and Jewish family (including every Or Ami member) should rearrange their plans and show up on Sunday morning, April 10th, for Jewish World Watch’s “Walk to End Genocide”.  A few hours of time to combat evil will not only fulfill Torah’s edict Lo taamod al dam rei-acha – don’t stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds (Lev. 19:16), but it will declare unambiguously to the world that evil, rape, violence, and genocide have no place in our world.

(If I can be so bold…) neither kids’ baseball games, nor homework projects, nor previous commitments should keep us from walking.

  • Think genocide in Darfur. 
  • Think organized mass rapes in Congo (by the hundreds of thousands). 
  • Remember Hotel Rwanda, Cambodia’s Pol Pot and Nazi Germany’s “labor – concentration – camps”.
So please, sign up at www.WalktoEndGenocide.org. Join Team Congregation Or Ami if you don’t have another favorite.

If you absolutely cannot make the time, sponsor a walker. Or you can sponsor me here.

Let’s awake next year without the need to Walk to End Genocide. On that new day, the whispers of renewed genocide could really be just a bad dream (not a really bad joke).  

And the Next Genocide Will Be In… (Top Ten List)

As this secular year rolls into the next, we will be besieged by Top Ten lists chronicling the year gone by. Top 10 movies. Top 10 Electronic Gadgets. Ten most newsworthy events. Will anyone compile a list of the Top Conflicts Most Likely to Become the Next Genocide?

Though it won’t appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, Jewish World Watch (JWW) did compile such a list. JWW reviewed and collected material from an array of human rights reports and news sources, creating a genocide risk assessment that did place Congo among the ignominious top ten. The atrocities in Congo just keep escalating; like during Egyptian slavery, the violence and death are almost incomprehensible. Yet according to JWW and the aid agency International Rescue Committee:

  • 5.4 million civilians have been killed by war-related violence, hunger and disease since 1998.
  • Up to 45,000 continue to die each month.
  • Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have reportedly been raped in a systematic campaign to destroy entire communities by using women’s bodies as battlegrounds.
  • 75% of all rapes reported to Doctors Without Borders worldwide occur in the Eastern Congo, considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.
  • 2 million have been internally displaced, often uprooted several times by various warring factions
  • 900,000 civilians have been newly displaced just since January 2009.

Congo is one country where our voices can be heard. We are unwitting participants in this war, implicated by the phones in our pockets and computers on our desks. The armed groups perpetrating the rapes and violence are funded by an estimated $144 million annual trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. These minerals go directly into the components of electronic products that we use every day, from our iPods to our BlackBerrys.

How do we – children and grandchildren of the post-Holocaust generation, descendants of Egyptian slaves – respond to this conflict? Rabbi Harold Schulweis teaches “To be Jewish is to care for the world. Torah does not say ‘love thy Jewish neighbor’; it says ‘love thy neighbor’ (Lev. 19:18).” Similarly, Torah does not allow us to stand idly by while our non-Jewish neighbor bleeds, because we are commanded to stand up whenever any neighbor bleeds (Lev. 19:16).

The 21 largest electronic companies are poised to accept a campaign committing them to source their minerals to the mine of origin. Jewish World Watch is part of a coalition of stakeholders influencing and directing the Conflict-Free Minerals designation and the international oversight process. Our community must demand an end to the use of “conflict minerals.”

Lo ta’amod al dam rei-acha – Don’t stand idly by while our neighbors bleed. How will you answer your descendents? Take a moment to remember the generations of Israelites who died in service of Pharaoh’s bloody war machine. Then be like Shifrah and Puah, the two Egyptian midwives who refused to stand idly by. Go to JewishWorldWatch to take the Conflict-Free Minerals Pledge. Then leave a comment so I know you signed.

Walking to End Genocide: My Daughter in Poland, the Rest of Us in Los Angeles

My daughter is in Poland as I write, joining 10,000 other Jewish teens from around the world on the international March of the Living. As its website states, March of the Living is an “educational program that brings Jewish teens from all over the world to Poland on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex built during World War II, and then to Israel to observe Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The goal of the March of the Living is for these young people to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and to lead the Jewish people into the future vowing Never Again.”

Sending our daughter on this trip – to be the first November/Kipnes to view the ruins of the Holocaust – was a gift to the Jewish people and to the world. She will be a witness to the murders, and she will, I hope, become an activist against genocide wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.

As she marches through Poland and then Israel, I am preparing to march with 2,000 people in Jewish World Watch‘s Walk to End Genocide. In memory of the 11 million who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and the countless other millions who were murdered in genocides before and since, I will be walking on this Sunday. I am proud that my synagogue, Congregation Or Ami of Calabasas, CA, – by virtue of the largest delegation of walkers and highest amount of donations – has led this walk for the past two years.

If you are in the area, come walk with us on the Walk to End Genocide. Register here.

If you cannot walk, consider sponsoring me so we can reach my goal of raising another $1,000 to help end genocide. Click here to donate. Together we can do the work to wipe out hatred-filled, xenophobic genocide.