October 16, 2018

Community puts best foot forward at JWW’s Walk to End Genocide

To help raise awareness of efforts to end genocides, approximately 1,000 people participated in the 11th annual Jewish World Watch (JWW) Walk to End Genocide on April 30, starting at Pan Pacific Park.

“It’s one place where everyone comes together,” said Susan Freudenheim, executive director of JWW. “It’s a community event where people of all denominations and across the board — churches and other groups — come together.”

Indeed, clergy, synagogue members, high school students and elected officials, many wearing T-shirts that read, “This is what activism looks like,” covered 5 kilometers on streets neighboring The Grove and the Original Farmers Market.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books,” Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer said in an interview. “Genocide is something happening right now.”

Beyond the Holocaust, during which the Nazis systematically targeted European Jewry for extinction, other groups have suffered genocide, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines as “violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.”

A Jewish lawyer from what is now Belarus, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term “genocide” in 1944. Genocides have occurred against Armenians in 1915, Cambodians in 1975, Rwandans in 1994 and Sudanese in the early years of this century.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books.” — Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer

Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, director of youth learning and engagement at Temple Beth Am, said the walk would not prevent killings in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, or Syria, which has endured civil war since 2011. Raising awareness about those countries, however, is important, Hoffman said.

“You don’t walk because it ends genocide,” he said, joined by his daughter, Mina, 10, at the event. “You walk to raise awareness that genocide is a real thing that exists today.”

Jordana Olszewski, who owns a jewelry company called Jordana Adrienne, participated as a member of Team Ohr HaTorah, named for a synagogue in Mar Vista. She started the day at 8 a.m., running in a 10K race that kicked off the event.

“I’m tired, but it’s all right, it’s great,” she said, as she completed the event. “All these different synagogues and organizations coming together, it’s really nice.” Moments later, she picked up a bongo drum and banged away as part of a drum circle drawing people of all ages.

Headquartered in Encino, JWW is focused on ending genocide by partnering with groups working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan.

In 2004, the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis co-founded the organization with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, on the premise that Jews have a responsibility to prevent another Holocaust from happening, whether the victims are Jewish or not.

Schulweis delivered a 2004 High Holy Days sermon titled “Globalism and Judaism,” in which he declared, “To be a Jew is to think big; to be a Jew is to think globally; to be a Jew is to act globally; to be a Jew is to love God, who is global.”

At the walk, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz attempted to uphold the JWW co-founder’s mission.

“ ‘Never again’ does not just mean for Jews,” he said, wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. “We all have to fight genocide in any way we can.”

Freudenheim said the organization has expanded its work to include assistance for refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war.

“We’ve also been working on trying to help the Syrian refugees who are in Greece, in Lesbos, by providing help to support the psychological aspects of their residency, to give them psychological support,” she said.

Additional JWW Walk to End Genocide events took place this year in Washington, D.C., and Santa Rosa and the Conejo Valley in California.  Altogether, the four events raised more than $180,000.

Karina Zysman, 18, a senior at Taft Charter High School planning to attend UCLA this fall, is secretary of the JWW Teen Ambassador Program, which instills community organizing and advocacy skills in students grades 9-12.

As captain of Team Taft and participating in her first Walk to End Genocide, she carried a sign reading, “Welcome Refugees.”

“The first step to making a change is to show up,” she said. “I am so astonished by how many people did show up for this cause. It inspires me to have hope, using baby steps to change the world for the better.”