In 1st, Israel grants formal asylum to Darfuri refugee from Sudan

Israel for the first time granted refugee status to a Sudanese national who fled the mass murder in Darfur.

Israel’s interior ministry on Friday announced it has accepted the asylum application of Mutasim Ali, who arrived in Israel seven years ago from Darfur, Army Radio reported. Ali left Sudan amid persecution by the Sudanese authorities over his political activity on behalf of the residents of his region of the African dictatorship, he said.

The Jewish state has a little over 42,000 foreign residents whom the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, a nonprofit, believes may qualify as asylum seekers, according to a report published this month. Of those, 19 percent are Sudanese and another 71 percent are Eritrean. However, only 5,500 of immigrants from both groups have formally applied for asylum in Israel.

Most Sudanese and Eritreans in Israel are allowed to stay through an executive order labeled “temporary group protection,” which constitutes neither a visa nor asylum status, and which needs to be renewed every few weeks. They are, however, allowed to work.

Only four Eritreans have received asylum in Israel, out of 2,408 Eritreans who applied for it citing persecution in their dictatorial homeland in eastern Africa. In 2008, Israel gave temporary residence status to 500 Sudanese nationals from Darfur, who infiltrated its border with Egypt. It was a one-time humanitarian gesture, the interior ministry said at the time.

Israel began processing asylum applications by Sudanese and Eritrean nationals in 2013 and has since then received 3,165 applications by former residents of Sudan. Of those, Israeli authorities have vetted only 45 Sundanese applications, according to the refugee assistance group. The remaining applications are still awaiting evaluation.

Darfur, the rebellious region in western Sudan, became known in the mid-2000s for systematic killings, rape, forced relocations and other crimes committed against mainly non-Arab tribes by government forces and their nomadic militia allies, known as the Janjaweed.

As many as 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003, according to United Nations estimates, and 2.5 million people have been uprooted in what is widely considered a modern-day genocide, according to the New York Times.

The worst of the mass killings appears to have eased. But the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir — who has been indicted in connection with Darfur atrocities, including on charges of genocide, by the International Criminal Court — has escalated attacks against the insurgency there in recent years.

In Europe, approximately 70 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers are granted refugee status, according to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. The figure for Eritreans stands on 80-90 percent in the West, according to the same group.

Turning ‘never again’ into action: the legacy of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

70 years ago this week, the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated. From the ashes of the murdered arose the words “Never Again” – spoken as shorthand for our collective responsibility to act in the face of genocide. However, on the world stage, the words “Never Again” soon were replaced by a reality of “Yet Again”, as the horrors of the Holocaust were followed by genocide after genocide, atrocity after atrocity – from Cambodia to Rwanda, from Darfur to Congo. Since 1945, 46 genocides have claimed the lives of tens of millions.

Until 2004, I was among those who failed to act. Like many Jews who grew up in the 1950s, I internalized a deep sense of responsibility to safeguard the memory of the Shoah – so that the world would understand anti-Semitism’s dangers and prevent Jewish persecution in the future. Yet, when I heard about atrocities in faraway places like Cambodia and Rwanda, the notion that I could do something – that I should do something – never materialized in my head. My mindset shifted because of one man, Rabbi Harold Schulweis – with whom I co-founded Jewish World Watch. As he changed my perspective, Rabbi Schulweis dramatically changed my life – and saved thousands of others.

In the wake of Rabbi Schulweis’ passing last month, our emotions at Jewish World Watch have run the gamut: great sadness at the loss of a truly extraordinary human being, gratitude for our opportunity to know and love such a deeply influential Jewish leader – and more than anything, resolve to amplify his message.

Somehow I wish that we could transport the entire American Jewish community to the Congregation of Valley Beth Shalom on Rosh Hashanah in 2004, when Rabbi Schulweis asked, “Where were you when one million innocents were slaughtered in Rwanda?” Like many others sitting in the congregation, I felt a pit in my stomach as I thought of my response to his question. Then he challenged us, “What will you do today to stop the first genocide of the 21st century – the genocide in Darfur?”

In that room, at that moment, no one could look the other way as Rabbi Schulweis spoke about another people being targeted for destruction. From his moral call, we resolved that Jewish World Watch would protect those threatened by genocide and mass atrocities in all corners of the planet. We would educate our community, lobby policymakers, and provide moral support and direct assistance to survivors on the ground.

In 2004, at 80-years-old, Rabbi Schulweis founded an organization – a movement – that has become one of America’s largest and loudest anti-genocide groups. In the decade since that Rosh Hashanah, Jewish World Watch has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts that helped to bring about pressure to end the genocide in Darfur, drive the most lethal militias out of Congo, and create broad awareness among governments and global corporations about the threat of emerging genocides around the world.

We’ve raised many millions of dollars for projects to aid more than 500,000 survivors of genocide and mass atrocities – from educational programs that allow former sex slaves and rape victims in Congo to reclaim their futures; to Solar Cookers, a simple invention that has dramatically improved the safety of Darfuri refugees, allowing women and girls to avoid the frequent assaults that result from leaving their refugee camps to search for firewood.

Even as his health began to falter, Rabbi Schulweis remained deeply involved in our work, day after day. His intellect and oratory animated our marches, rallies, and seminars. His warmth and humility cemented our coalitions with people of all faiths and races. His excitement and encouragement inspired our board members to take frequent trips to Africa – and to report back to him about the people we met and the projects we were pursuing. His bold conscience insisted that we continue to dig deeper to find the godliness and goodliness in our souls.

As a human being, it is natural to become mired in your own struggle – in righting the wrongs that have been done to your people. With global anti-Semitism on the rise – as we see Jews continue to be murdered only because of their faith – the impulse to hunker down and focus only on our own is real and understandable.

Yet, Rabbi Schulweis spoke out against that kind of thinking. He drew the connections between genocides. He pushed our community to see that the Jewish quest for justice will never be complete if we stand idly by when others are in danger – and that the Jewish drive to protect ourselves will not succeed in a fractured and Balkanized world.

We live during a time in grave need of Rabbi Schulweis’ message. From Congo and Sudan, from Iraq to Syria, from Burma to the Central African Republic, we are called to take the words “Never Again” and turn them into action. In his memory, let us continue to breathe life into the best of our Jewish values to create a better world.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Esq., is the President and Co-Founder of Jewish World Watch – a multi-faith coalition representing hundreds of thousands in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities.

Leaving Israel, Africans face detention, possibly death

“When the conflict started in the Darfur region and we came to Israel, all the people knew why,” said Yeman Adam, a 30-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker who fled to Israel in 2008. “The media was making comparisons between the Holocaust and Darfur genocide, and the Israeli government accepted us.”

As he spoke, Adam sat in the underground headquarters for the group he founded, the Dakaraw Termenan Organization: a freshly painted white room in South Tel Aviv lined in shut-down computers and fringed in royal-blue curtains. The room was empty except for Adam and two friends. They all come from the Masalit tribe, one of various Darfuri tribes targeted by the Sudanese government.

“We used to have hundreds of people in this office. You couldn’t find a chair to sit here,” Adam continued. But now, thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers are being pushed out of Tel Aviv — some returning to Africa, and others moving to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel, the new prison complex constructed near the border with the Sinai desert.

Adam and the handful of Masalit tribe members still living in Tel Aviv have been trying to get in touch with seven men in their tribe, all of whom departed Israel for Sudan’s Khartoum International Airport within the last few weeks.

They’ve all gone missing.

Those seven missing Masalit are part of a growing crisis. Since the exodus began in December, almost 3,000 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers, of approximately 55,000 who had settled in Israel and are now facing prison, have chosen instead to depart to either Sudan, Eritrea or a third African country — namely, Uganda or Rwanda.

From left: Feisel Adam, Hassan Rahima and Yeman Adam, Sudanese community organizers, met at their office in South Tel Aviv.

Abdulmalik Abdalla, a dimply 30-year-old who worked at hotels across Israel for the last few years, is on the Masalit tribe’s disappearance list. On Feb. 18, the day before he left for Sudan, he and his friends shared a bottle of whiskey and a giant platter of chicken wings in a closet-sized apartment in the run-down Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of South Tel Aviv. A cloth hanging over the room’s small window fluttered on an unusually warm winter breeze. Abdalla’s eyes watered some as he talked about how excited he was to see his family, from which he had been separated for more than a decade.

Abdalla still hasn’t gotten that chance. Sudanese security officials told a friend who came to meet Abdalla at the airport that Abdalla had been taken into custody.

No one has heard from Abdalla since he departed Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Feb. 19.

“We’re hearing about hundreds of people being arrested” upon arrival to Sudan, said Rami Gudovitch, a longtime advocate for African refugees in Israel who also teaches philosophy at Haifa University and the Interdisciplinary Center. Gudovitch has been compiling data based on testimony from his hundreds of contacts in the refugee community; he estimates that a minimum of 500 asylum seekers who returned to Sudan from Israel are behind bars.

Seven of those Sudanese men, he said, are believed to be dead.

Hundreds of African asylum seekers waited outside an extension office for the Israeli Ministry of Interior, hoping to renew their visas, on March 4.

This botched African exodus from Israel is the result of a plan revealed by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar last August. According to Israeli news site, Sa’ar said in a government meeting that “a wide-scale deportation campaign will begin following the coming holidays,” starting with a period of “willing deportation” and ending with the mass cancellation of visas and forced expulsion.

Come December 2013, as promised, the plan entered its first stage, and the Ministry of Interior began offering $3,500 to any asylum seeker who agreed to relocate.

In accordance with United Nations guidelines, Israel is not forcibly deporting any Eritrean or Sudanese nationals back to their volatile home countries. At a press conference on March 4, Sa’ar stressed that “everyone who leaves, whether to his country of origin or a third country, leaves of his own free will.”

But according to dozens of asylum seekers who spoke to the Jewish Journal, the decision to depart to Sudan and Eritrea, as well as Uganda and Rwanda, is made under intense pressure.

“The fact that they’re taking the money and going back does not make them less of refugees,” said Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator for Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Israel’s oldest nonprofit assisting the Africans. “It only means that the life here is so horrible that they will take the risk with the hope of finding another country that will protect them.”

Sudanese and Eritrean nationals staying in Israel face two options: indefinite detention at Holot, the remote desert prison, or life under constant fear of losing their visas (and therefore their livelihood). Thousands are turning in applications for asylum, but the Ministry of Interior has only reported three approvals. As reporter Michael Omer-Man pointed out in Israel’s liberal +972 Magazine, government authorities have provided asylum seekers “the most basic protection — against deportation to their home countries — but in all other ways treated them like infiltrators.”

Filmon Ghide, 20, was forced to sleep in South Tel Aviv's central Levinsky Park when the Ministry of Interior wouldn't renew his visa so he could work.

Since the Holot detention facility was unveiled in early December, around 3,500 asylum seekers, seemingly the ones who’ve been in Israel the longest, have been summoned to the prison without trial for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

Food and medicine at the prison are severely lacking, as evidenced by cellphone photos snapped by prisoners inside. “If we complain, [prison staffers] tell us, 'Then why don't you go home?’ ” Muhamad Musa, formerly a jewelry shop owner in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, told the Journal. Other prisoners said jail officials constantly pressure them to accept the government’s offer of $3,500 and a flight out.

Life isn’t much easier for those who remain in the city. On a recent Tuesday, what looked to be about 800 Africans, including women and children, crowded around the gates to a newly opened Ministry of Interior building especially for African migrants. The offices, tucked between warehouses and office buildings on a hidden alley in North Tel Aviv, opened just last week — an alternative to the much more visible Ministry of Interior building nearby, situated at a major intersection across from the Azrieli Center mall.

“Why did they change places? Because there are 700 people in line, and everybody will pass by and see the problem,” said Eritrean asylum seeker Filmon Ghide. (The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.)

“They are kicking me like a soccer ball from office to office,” he said.

Approximately 1,000 asylum seekers protested outside the Holot detention facility for “illegal infiltrators” in the Israeli desert on Feb. 17.

On that Tuesday, a cluster of asylum seekers quickly formed around a reporter who had come to check out the new location. “Every day I come here [to the Ministry of Interior]. I am not yet sleeping here, but some are,” said Fitsum Tesfasilase, 36, who has been attempting — unsuccessfully — to renew his visa for more than a month. “We can’t make our rent. We can’t feed ourselves. Before, I worked cleaning the streets — black work. But now I can’t support my wife and my child.” Because Tesfasilase escaped forced, indefinite military service in Eritrea after 13 years as a soldier, he said he would likely face life in prison, or worse, if he returned to Eritrea.

Semere Abraham, 24, another Eritrean waiting in the line-turned-mob, said that a close friend of his named Merhawe had accepted Israel’s offer to fly to Uganda about two weeks ago. However, he said, the plan went terribly wrong: Merhawe was detained at the Uganda airport, flown to Egypt, detained again, and then sent against his wishes to Eritrea. “I was calling to his house [in Eritrea], and his mother was crying,” Abraham said. “He’s in the prison now.”

Last summer, Israeli officials announced that Uganda had agreed to accept some of Israel’s unwanted Africans. Ugandan officials, however, quickly denied the deal — and have denied it ever since. Musa Ecweru, who heads refugee affairs at Uganda’s Ministry for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, told the Journal: “I have not been formally informed of this. I just heard in the news.”

Ecweru added: “I don’t know why they would even want to come here and not relocate to Eritrea.”

And Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman in Rwanda’s Office of the President, said: “That’s really interesting. This is the first I’m hearing of this. Let me get back to you.” Makolo did not respond to multiple attempts to follow up.

Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority has become equally tight-lipped. “The only thing we can confirm is that there are some of them who are flying to another country and not their homeland,” a spokeswoman said via e-mail.

A waiting room on the seventh floor of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority building in South Tel Aviv is plastered with dozens of signs that say “No Exit Through Window.”

However, according to multiple Eritrean and Sudanese men who have been trying to renew their visas at the Israeli Ministry of Interior, government staffers are telling them that they have the option to be relocated not only to Uganda but also to next-door Rwanda.

This is incredibly distressing, said Dismas Nkunda of the International Refugee Rights Initiative — not to mention, he said, “absolutely illegal by both Israel” and the other countries.

Uganda and Rwanda are still dealing with their own refugee crises, and without a formal relocation overseen by the United Nations, according to Nkunda and other human-rights experts, there is no guarantee that Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers will receive the protection they need.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has yet to intervene. However, a UNHCR spokesman issued a statement to the Journal demanding that any state, including Israel, “refrain from any future measure that could directly or indirectly lead to the return of a person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be threatened.”

In a series of interviews, Eritrean asylum seeker Ghide, 20, said five of his friends received $3,500 each from the Israeli government to board a plane to Rwanda in the past three weeks. Over the phone from Rwanda, his friends now tell him that around 30 asylum seekers from Israel are in the Central African country; in addition, according to Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a plane carrying more of them to Rwanda departed Tuesday night.

Ghide said he would never accept the deal. His own father has been imprisoned for years under the current dictator, Isaias Afewerki, for worshipping and preaching as a Protestant Christian, and he’s afraid that Eritrean government would kidnap him from Uganda or Rwanda and shut him, too, in an underground jail. Nevertheless, the young Eritrean said, he understands his friends’ decision.

“Jail in your own country can be better than living in another country as a prisoner,” he said, “because maybe you will find a guard or something to send a message to your mother or father. And after six or seven years, maybe they will release you.”

Hundreds of African asylum seekers waited outside an extension office for the Israeli Ministry of Interior, hoping to renew their visas, on March 4.

Ghide said his friends in Rwanda also told him by phone that an anonymous official met them at the airport and gave them money to stay at a hotel for a couple of nights. But now they’re panicking, he said, because “they cannot get work and nobody is helping them. They are so worried about it.”

Another group of seven asylum seekers from Sudan spoke to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz from Uganda after leaving Israel in mid-February.

NGOs are having trouble keeping up with this chaotic scattering of Israel’s asylum seekers across Africa. Rozen at Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said she received information from the UNHCR that one Eritrean man whom Israel tried to relocate to Rwanda was immediately put on a plane to Eritrea by Rwandan authorities.

“There are a lot of weird stories — there’s one story about a group that ended up finding themselves in Chad,” said Gudovitch. The Israeli activist is scrambling to compile a comprehensive list of the departed by early April, when the Supreme Court of Israel is set to review a petition against the law allowing indefinite detention at Holot.

According to those tracking the departures, Eritrea has seen the fewest voluntary returns. Although the nation is not as globally infamous as, say, Darfur, asylum seekers say life under authoritarian rule has become intolerable. In December 2010, the U.S. ambassador to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city, wrote in a leaked embassy cable: “Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant.” Every year since 2007, Eritrea has placed dead last on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index; the organization writes that “the few journalists who dare to criticize the regime are thrown in prison.” Swedish-Eritrean journalist Meron Estefanos has called it “the North Korea of Africa.”

Meanwhile, Israeli government officials have boasted about the thousands of 2014 departures without acknowledging the dangers facing refugees. “Every week now, there are fewer infiltrators in Israel,” Sa’ar announced at his March 4 press conference.

Filmon Ghide, far right, helped translate for fellow Eritrean asylum seeker Fitsum Tesfasilase outside Tel Aviv's new visa office. “I was forced to serve in the military for 13 years as a slave, and I ran away in the night,” Tesfasilase said in his native language of Tegrinyia.

Massive asylum-seeker rallies against Sa’ar’s policies in January and February have dwindled in recent weeks. “The government of Israel has done a tremendous job convincing the Israeli public that all these people are work infiltrators, and that we should keep them away as quickly as possible,” said Rozen with Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. “This is actually our main problem.”

A skit staged by three asylum seekers in Holot’s front parking lot on March 8, with two busloads of Tel Aviv visitors as audience, poked fun at Israel’s deportation tactics. One Sudanese actor, pretending to be an Israeli government worker, whispered temptations into community leader Anwar Suliman’s ear — telling him how peaceful Sudan had become and how great it would be to see his family. After a few minutes of these sweet lies, to wild laughter, Suliman scribbled his signature onto the voluntary return form and threw his hands up in defeat.

In reality, Sudan is still incredibly dangerous, said 38-year-old Hassan Rahima, a widely respected community leader and head of the Organization of Sudanese Refugees in Israel, an umbrella organization for various tribal groups. “I cannot go back. I lost before my whole family: I was in my area in the Nuba Mountains, and my mother, my brother and my sister were all killed in front of my eyes. I was in jail for three months. Then the boss of the jail took me to where he lived and kept me as his slave for three years. I was cleaning the house and washing the clothes. I brought water to the house from the river on my back. All the time, they sent me to get water.”

The government that would meet him at the Khartoum International Airport, Rahima said, “is the same government who committed these crimes in the Nuba Mountains.”

A ‘walk’ to remember

With African drumming and a chorus of shofars, more than 2,000 people in purple T-shirts reading “I walk to tip the scales” gathered in Pan Pacific Park on April 14 to call attention to global injustice.

Under overcast skies, the seventh annual Walk to End Genocide raised more than $200,000 and was sponsored by the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW). 

 “I just think it’s a fantastic cause, and it’s the sort of thing that I don’t feel like I’m educated enough about,” said Joe Holt, who took part in the walk for the first time. 

JWW was founded in Southern California in 2004 to fight genocide and mass atrocities. It is a coalition of more than 70 synagogues of all denominations, as well as individuals, schools, churches and other partner organizations. 

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jared Sichel

Currently, JWW focuses on the ongoing conflict in Sudan, which has claimed the lives of 400,000 in the Darfur region, and on the mass murders and rapes occurring in eastern Congo, where millions of civilians have perished from war-related violence, disease and hunger over the last 15 years.

Prior to the 5k walk, which took place along the streets near the Beverly Boulevard park, a number of people spoke about genocide from personal experience.

Julia Juliama, who was born in Sudan, came to America via Egypt on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was 7 years old. She and her immediate family were able to escape, but she spoke of how many of her relatives weren’t so lucky.

“My grandparents and all of my extended family still lives in the Nuba Mountains,” Juliama told the crowd. “There [are] bombings every day, and my relatives are hiding in caves.”

Helen Freeman, a 92-year-old woman who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and now works with JWW to raise public awareness about genocide, said she doesn’t want history to repeat itself.

“I don’t want any other teenager [to] go through what I did as a teen in Poland,” Freeman said. “[Youth] will carry on my message to speak up and fight intolerance and hatred, to prevent future holocausts and stop genocide whenever it occurs.”

Funds raised by the event will be used for education, advocacy and on-the-ground relief projects for survivors in Congo and Sudan, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW’s president and co-founder with Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Since its creation, JWW has raised more than $11 million. 

One of its initiatives is the Solar Cooker Project. The concept behind the project is basic — harness the sun’s energy to provide heat for cooking. The result, though, is deeply impactful. Many women in Darfur and surrounding refugee camps in neighboring Chad leave themselves vulnerable to abduction, rape and murder when they leave their camps to gather firewood. The solar cooker is able to reduce the amount of firewood needed and already has been distributed in four Chadian refugee camps. A 2007 study done on the effectiveness of the cookers in the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad showed that trips outside the camp to gather firewood were reduced by 86 percent.

Framing JWW’s fight against genocide with the biblical commandment to “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” Kamenir-Reznik believes that the walk keeps the ongoing conflicts in Africa in people’s minds.

“Without activism, a cause gets lost,” Kamenir-Reznik told the Journal. “One of the main objectives of this walk is to ensure that the cause of the Darfur survivors and of the victims in eastern Congo does not get lost in the shuffle of the busy-ness of everybody’s lives.”

Juliama reminded the participants why they came. “We, with our will, intellect and passion, can walk to end genocide step by step,” she  said. “So let’s take the first step.”

Chanukah in Chad

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the Co-Founder and President of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW’s work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice is currently traveling along with Diana Buckhantz, JWW Board Member, on a site visit to the JWW Solar Cooker Project in the Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad, home to approximately 30,000 Darfuri refugees.

[Farchana, Chad] — It is late into the evening, and I just remembered – tonight is the first night of Chanukah, even in the seemingly God-forsaken town of Farchana on the eastern rim of Chad.  Today my JWW travel partner, Diana Buckhantz, and I spent Shabbat visiting the Farchana refugee camp. We came to meet the Darfuri refugee women served by our Solar Cooker Project.  With all of the scores of organizations that support this massive camp, I was told today that the donor partners almost never actually come to the camp to meet, on a personal level, with individual refugees to engage in conversation.  Most donors, I was told, receive reports explaining how the funds are used and describing the benefits conferred.  As we met the women today, the vital importance of visiting the camps and talking to the people being served, which JWW has done in Congo and Darfur whenever possible, was clearer to me than ever.

One obvious reason that personal contact is so important is to bear witness to the women’s stories of loss, survival and resilience. Bringing these mind boggling and dramatically tragic stories home helps to educate and mobilize our community and give a face to an otherwise very distant, removed, hard to understand genocide, the effects of which continue to unfold. 

The other reason is more subtle, but it is equally, if not more, important.  Many of the women we met with expressed a similar sentiment when they heard who we were and why we came to visit. With faces that speak legions about their sense of isolation, their sadness and their understandable depression, they were so grateful to be remembered especially now, at a time when the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have announced huge reductions in resources previously provided to the Farchana camp.  The refugees at Farchana know that those resources are being redeployed from Farchana to be used in other, newer conflict areas around the world.  We learned that this week alone UNHCR reduced by 25 per cent, effective immediately, and in some cases even retroactively, the funds and services allocated to Farchana.  There was a further UNHCR directive issued this week that for the 2013 budget year, Farchana will take an additional 28 percent reduction in allocation.

Information about all of this redeployment of funds sends a very serious and provocative message to the refugee population; first and foremost, it means that their services will be drastically reduced.  To people living in abject poverty and profound squalor, drastic reductions in services could be the difference between life and death.  But what is also significant and quite painful to the refugees in Farchana, is the message of abandonment that the reductions imply.  The reduction of funds is a symbol of the sad truth that the world’s attention has moved on.

So in the midst of such depressing news, unwittingly, our trip to Farchana has taken on new significance – to the refugees, to the aid workers, and to us at JWW.  For the refugees and aid workers, a visit from an organization that is not reducing its funding but rather was interested in listening to ideas for future projects, lifted spirits and brought a degree of hopefulness.  For me, Diana and for JWW, it means an intensification of our responsibilities, as we are being relied upon by one of the most beleaguered populations in the world, a population that is increasingly isolated and abandoned.

Today, after I introduced myself and JWW to the women refugees, ending my words with JWW’s core value of “not standing idly by,” a woman, Awa, stood and said that Jewish World Watch gives her hope.  She continued by telling us, “with the passage of so many years, I was sure that by now everyone had forgotten about Darfur and given up that we should have a future. But hearing about your education and advocacy work on our behalf gives me back some spirit and makes me know that not everyone in the world has forgotten about us.”

This evening, as I remembered that it was the start of Chanukah, I reflected on Awa’s words and realized that we are faced with a serious challenge – an apt challenge to consider as I pulled my small menorah out of my duffle bag.  Chanukah is about fighting against great odds and ensuring that right prevails over might.  It is also a time of bright and shining lights.  Tonight is the first light of Chanukah, and I am very far away from home.  I came close to forgetting to light the first candle.  But, by myself (Diana was long asleep) in my hut late at night in the World Food Program compound in Farchana, two candles were lit.  As I watched the candles burn down, I felt renewed strength and obligation to continue our work here and to continue to shine a light on problems and circumstances others might prefer not to see.  This surely was a memorable, if not festive, Chanukah, and one that I likely will never forget.

South Sudan president makes lightening visit to Israel

The president of the new country of South Sudan arrived in Israel for a short working visit during which the possibility of repatriating Sudanese infiltrators to the country set to be discussed.

Salva Kiir met Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offered to send a government delegation to South Sudan to assess how Israel can help the new country, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Kiir also met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and visited Yad Vashem.His visit lasted less than 24 hours.

“I am very moved to be in Israel and to walk on the soil of the Promised Land, and with me are all South Sudanese people,” Kiir told Peres, according to a statement from the president’s office. “Israel has always supported the South Sudanese people. Without you, we would not have arisen. You struggled alongside us in order to allow the establishment of South Sudan and we are interested in learning from your experience. As a nation that rose from dust, and as the few who fought the many, you have established a flourishing country that offers a future and economic prosperity to its children. I have come to see your success. Both Israel and South Sudan champion coexistence and peace. We have shared values. We have waged similar struggles and we will go hand-in-hand with Israel in order to strengthen and enhance bilateral strategic relations.”

“Israel has supported, and will continue to support, your country in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it. We know that you courageously and wisely struggled against all odds to establish your country and for us, the birth of South Sudan is a milestone in the history of the Middle East and in advancing the values of equality, freedom and striving for peace and good neighborly relations,” Peres told Kiir. He also presented Kiir with an antique menorah, in honor of the start of Chanukah.

A small voice with a big message

Jacob Tragarz didn’t take the easy route when it came to his mitzvah project — he went big. The 12-year-old student decided to raise awareness about the suffering and violence in Darfur by organizing an assembly for nearly 700 of his peers at Marshall Fundamental High School, a public school in Pasadena.

Jacob said he first learned about Darfur in fourth grade through his synagogue, Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, which participates in the annual Walk for Darfur and educates its congregants about the issue. After he walked for Darfur last year, he was shocked to find that his friends at school were unaware of the ongoing genocide.

“I was telling my friends at school about the walk, and they didn’t even know what Darfur was,” he said. “From that point on, I wanted to spread the word about Darfur, more than just doing the walks.”

Jacob teamed up with Mina Rush of Jewish World Watch, an organization dedicated to fighting genocide and sponsor of the Walk for Darfur. Rush, the group’s synagogue resource director, said that Jacob’s enthusiasm, passion and motivation about the topic and for his project were inspiring.

“What’s unique about Jacob is he’s not looking for a one-off,” Rush said. “He knew years ago that this was something that was important to him and that he was going to use his bar mitzvah as an opportunity to raise awareness. That really makes him special.”

Jacob said that the suffering in Darfur resonates with him because he is Jewish, explaining that of all people, Jews should be working to stop the violence in that country because of their experiences in the Holocaust.

“Jews have suffered a genocide before, and I think it’s not right to have people killed because of who they are,” he said.

Jacob first had to present the idea to Marshall’s teachers and administrators — not an easy task for Jacob, who said that he was “very nervous.” Once the actual assembly came, the school publicized the event on the message board in front of the school. Jacob had to give another speech at the assembly, this time in front of 700 students, and then introduced Rush, who gave a presentation.

“He practiced that speech so many times,” said Mark Tragarz, Jacob’s father. “He really nailed it.”

Students from grades six through 12 attended Jacob’s assembly. Rush said she had never given a presentation on Darfur to such a wide range of ages, or to students as young as sixth-graders. However, she said, the assembly was a success.

“It’s hard to get people moved about people they are never going to meet in a country really far away and have it affect them in a way that they’re going to say, ‘Yes, that matters to me,’ ” Rush said. “And I think [Jacob’s assembly] did. I think there were people who were definitely touched. And that’s all because of Jacob; he definitely gets it.”

Jacob’s mom, Roberta Tragarz, agreed that Jacob’s assembly had a significant impact on the students who attended, opening their eyes to the horrors Rush recounted.

“The kids were riveted during the stories,” she said. “You could see the wheels were turning in the kids’ heads.”

After the assembly, Jacob and Rush handed out cards with the White House’s phone number on them and a script so that students could call and tell the White House staff that Darfur is an important issue that they want President Barack Obama to address. Jacob says students have since approached him to say that they had made the call.

The next part of Jacob’s project is fundraising. His school holds an annual charitable competition each spring, known as “Penny Wars,” and all of this year’s profits will go to Darfur. In addition, Jacob will have Jewish World Watch tzedakah boxes on the tables at his bar mitzvah party on Jan. 7 to encourage donations from his guests.

Although raising money for the cause is an important goal for Jacob, he said the assembly was the most important aspect of his project because it helped him teach his peers about an important global issue.
“I knew the first step to saving a place like this was to raise awareness,” Jacob said.

He explained that his classmates’ lack of knowledge on the subject is part of what is perpetuating the current violence in the region.

“One of the things about Darfur that I was shocked by was that the leader of Sudan [Omar al-Bashir] … began to kill all those people because he figured that nobody was paying attention to them in the first place,” Jacob said.

Valley-based group’s walk highlights atrocities in Darfur, Congo

As a high school freshman, Katie Hoselton decided to join an extracurricular club called “End Worldwide Genocide.” She didn’t know much about the issue at first but read up on conflicts in Eastern Europe and Africa and became a passionate activist for the cause.

“The whole concept is shocking to me,” said Hoselton, 17, now a senior at Agoura High School. “How can such a tragedy go on for so long and so few people my age know about it?”

To help raise awareness of global violence among her peers, Hoselton is recruiting friends to walk with her in the fourth annual Walk to End Genocide organized by Encino-based advocacy group Jewish World Watch (JWW). The walk, which will take place April 18 at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills, aims to draw attention to atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to raise money for JWW’s refugee relief programs in those areas.

Over the approximately two-mile route, participants from across the Southland will march alongside local dignitaries to show solidarity with Darfuri and Congolese refugees. The only requirements to get involved, said JWW Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, are walking shoes and a taste for tikkun olam (repairing the world).

“This is an opportunity for whole families to become involved in activism to combat genocide,” Schwartz-Getzug said recently. “Everyone from children on up can use this as a chance to do what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said -— to ‘pray with your feet.’ ”

Participants have ranged from mothers pushing strollers to students to senior citizens. Many come from JWW’s 64 member synagogues in the Los Angeles area, but past walks have also drawn members of the Armenian and African American communities, church groups, school clubs and individuals passionate about the issue. People can march alone or on teams and can raise money by asking for sponsorships.

Last year the walk drew a crowd of about 2,000 and raised more than $125,000 for JWW programs, Schwartz-Getzug said. These include the group’s education campaign, featuring its ACT project (Activist Certification and Training), a workshop that teaches advocacy skills to students in high schools, middle schools and religious schools; and its range of refugee relief and empowerment programs in Darfur and the DRC, many targeted toward female victims of widespread sexual violence.

More than 400,000 Darfuri civilians have been killed as the conflict in that region enters its seventh year, according to JWW, and 5.4 million Congolese civilians have been killed during 10 years of tribal warfare. Millions more are facing brutal atrocities or displacement to already-saturated refugee camps.

Through its landmark Solar Cooker Project, JWW has distributed 46,000 solar cookers to Darfuri families in refugee camps across the border in Chad, which help reduce women’s dependency on collecting firewood outside of camp borders, where they are susceptible to rape. JWW has also begun to fund the first burn center in the eastern DRC, in partnership with the Israeli organization Moriah Africa and Mashav, the Israeli government’s foreign aid agency.

The atmosphere at the annual JWW walk is a mixture of gravity and levity, Schwartz-Getzug said, as activists from across the L.A. area meet one another for the first time and march in solidarity.

“There’s a sense of excitement at being part of a community of activists who are all on the same page,” she said. Participants usually carry signs bearing phrases such as “Stop Genocide Now” and sing songs like “Lo Yisa Goy.”

Local officials are expected to attend, including California Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass, L.A. City Council members Jan Perry and Dennis Zine, and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, Schwartz-Getzug said. JWW founder Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of Valley Beth Shalom, will also speak to participants.

There will also be several musical treats for walkers, including a drumming performance and an interactive drum circle after the walk ends.

In previous years the event was called the Walk for Darfur, but this year the name has been broadened as the organization’s focus expands. By the date of the walk, Schwartz-Getzug and JWW founding president
Janice Kamenir-Reznik will have returned from their second visit to the DRC and will talk about JWW’s work in the region.

Outside Los Angeles, second-annual sister walks will be held in Santa Rosa and Orange County. JWW organized the Orange County walk, scheduled for April 25 at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, while in Santa Rosa, the walk was founded by 15-year-old Gabe Ferrick of Congregation Shomrei Torah to benefit JWW.

“A walk is a very democratic kind of event — anyone and everyone can participate, without regard to age, income, gender, race or religion,” Schwartz-Getzug said. “It brings our community of activists together in a big way that really empowers and energizes the group and allows them to see they’re not the only ones working for this issue. That’s a very encouraging feeling.”

Activists Stand Firm on Warrant for Sudan Leader

Hours after an international court issued a warrant for his arrest, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir kicked humanitarian aid groups out of his country. Nevertheless, Jewish activists who backed the indictment are standing behind their decision.

The world community cannot allow Bashir’s crimes and threats to deter the appropriate legal entities from taking action, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Bashir’s reaction reaffirms “the legitimacy of the indictment” by the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Saperstein, who noted that Bashir has been obstructing the provision of humanitarian aid for years. He said that the indictment and arrest warrant should turn up the pressure on the Sudanese leader.

The warrant charges Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity — murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape — in the Darfur region of Sudan. It also includes two counts of war crimes — intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging.

After a nearly six-year campaign of systematic rape, expulsion and murder against the citizens of Darfur by the government-backed Janjaweed militia, hundreds of thousands have died and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes and live in refugee camps in the region or in the neighboring countries of Chad and the Central African Republic.

Following the arrest warrant, the Sudanese government revoked the licenses of 13 international humanitarian organizations and evicted them from Sudan on March 4. The government also closed down three domestic relief agencies.

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, the expelled organizations account for at least half of the humanitarian operations in Darfur, and without them, some 1.1 million people will be without food aid, 1.5 million will not have medical care and more than a million will be left without safe drinking water.

“I’m sad” about the situation, but “if criminal law is going to mean anything, we have to call it what it is,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which earlier this month passed a resolution supporting the possible use of military force in Darfur.

Gutow said supporters of the indictment anticipated the consequences, but the hope is that the ICC action will have an impact “not today but tomorrow.” He said the arrest warrant increased the likelihood that others in the Sudanese leadership, upset by the international opprobrium, would push out Bashir and set up a more conciliatory government.

Another Jewish group active on the Darfur issue, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), refused to connect the two recent events. AJWS spokesman Joshua Berkman said his organization “does not believe there is any legitimate link” between the arrest warrant and the ejection of aid groups.

“The ICC is an independent court and has nothing to do with humanitarian relief work,” he said.

Berkman said AJWS believes the international community is correct in rejecting the idea that humanitarian aid for 4 million people could be used as a “bargaining chip” in any way, and added that it was time for the United States to take the lead in pushing to resolve the conflict.

Saperstein agreed, saying that his group was pushing for the White House to name a special envoy to work on the issue.

After a meeting with President Obama last month, actor George Clooney said he was told there would be an envoy appointed, but the White House has not announced it.

In a letter last week signed by AJWS, the Religious Action Center and the JCPA, more than 50 members of the Save Darfur Coalition urged Obama to condemn publicly Bashir’s actions and “insist that he restore access to life-saving humanitarian aid.”

While the effects of the expulsion of aid groups on Darfurians is not yet known, Jewish leaders said that Bashir’s actions immediately caught the attention of the wider American Jewish community, which has been at the forefront of efforts to bring the world’s focus to the Darfur genocide.

The Reform movement sent out an action alert last week to its congregations urging members to call their members of Congress about Darfur, and “judging from the response, people are re-engaged on this issue,” Saperstein said.

He said the indictment and expulsion of aid groups “has galvanized people again.”

L.A.’s Top Ten Mensches — big hearted Angelenos

“It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone ‘a real mensch,'” writes Leo Rosten in “The Joys of Yiddish.”

The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation — “person” — with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.

Boy, could we use some now.

As the last pieces of 2008 crash down around us, there is ample evidence that mensch-hood (more properly, menschlikayt) is in short supply, at least judging by headlines. Worse, the Bernard Madoff scandal revealed a disturbing tendency to hide chicanery under the guise of do-goodery. Madoff, his middlemen and some charitable boards were doing good while doing wrong — either out of evil, in Madoff’s case, or, at best perhaps, just out of gullibility and incompetence.

So we look to The Journal’s fourth annual Top Ten Mensches list to brighten our spirits and boost our hopes for a better year. As the stories here demonstrate, these are people who in the course of lives no less hectic and demanding than our own, facing temptations no less alluring than those we all confront, manage to reach out and help others, making the world a better place, day in and day out.

The Jewish Journal created this list as a response to all those lists extolling fame, money, power and hot-ness. We honor these special ten because they are just people — menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural — who understand the power and possibility of what just one person can do to help others.

Thank you to all our mensches, and to all who offered up names for consideration. Maybe next year we’ll all be candidates for the list….

Gabriel Halimi: Partying For a Cause

It was a stuttering problem that turned Gabriel Halimi into a mensch.

“I had a really bad stutter when I was kid,” the now 27-year-old recalled recently. “My therapist said I needed to speak up in class and try to get myself to talk more, and then I started falling into leadership activities because it forced me to talk.”

Dressed in a pink shirt and a brown blazer, Halimi looks much like the young professionals he now helps lead in the 4-year-old Beverly Hills-based nonprofit, Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP).

By day, Halimi works at ACG, a real estate consulting firm. But he recently passed the California Bar exam and said he hopes to be practicing as an attorney by February.

In addition to working full time and attending Loyola Law School, Halimi is one of 25 young professionals who helped found SYP and is currently serving as one of its board members. The philosophy behind SYP, Halimi said, is simple.

“We wanted to do well in our work,” he said. “We wanted to party, and we wanted to do something bigger than ourselves, and that’s kinda where SYP was born.”

Halimi grew up in Los Angeles, attending Temple Emanuel Community Day School before eventually transferring to Beverly Hills public schools. But Halimi said it wasn’t until college that his Jewish roots really took hold.

At UC Santa Barbara, Halimi joined the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and became immersed in its world of partying and doing good.

“He was really seen as a leader even among his peers,” said Elishia Shokrian Bolour, a childhood friend who, along with Halimi, helped found SYP.

However, Halimi insists that working with SYP has demanded little self-sacrifice. Throughout the year, SYP holds events — big, bold, boisterous events — and rather than have all the money go to the DJ, the club or the liquor, the majority of the proceeds (about 70 percent) goes to charity.

“We just kinda wanted to get people to think in more philanthropic terms,” Halimi said. “If you’re going to be doing this anyway [partying], you might as well be doing it for a good cause.”

On May 14, 2005, Halimi and his friends launched SYP’s first event by pulling all their resources together and throwing a huge bash in Beverly Hills.

Approximately 500 young Angelenos — mostly ages 18-30 — raised close to $70, 000 for three Jewish organizations: IMA Foundation, which is dedicated to disaster relief in Israel; the educational foundation Magbit, which helps those in Israel gain a higher education; and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish drug rehabilitation center in Culver City.

Halimi said his favorite SYP cause so far, however, has been one that doesn’t directly involve the Jewish community: Darfur.

“It was just so beautiful,” Halimi said, referring to the $45,000 SYP donated to American Jewish World Service’s relief work in Darfur. “We could see beyond ourselves and recognize that there are a lot of people out there that could use our help.”
“It goes to the principle of tikkun olam,” healing the world, he said.

SYP is not a Jewish organization, although most of those involved have grown up within the Jewish community, and the nonprofit does not make any outright political statements.

“We don’t want to take any kind of political stance that might alienate someone,” he said.

The organization chooses the causes it supports democratically, allowing every member to have a say in the direction of the nonprofit.

In addition to SYP, Halimi is involved in 30 Years After, a nonprofit dedicated to uniting the Iranian American Jewish community, and the Lev Foundation, which promotes balanced, responsible living and is named in honor of Daniel Levian, a recent victim of a drunk driving accident.

When asked, Halimi said he doesn’t consider himself a mensch — he’s not worthy, he claimed — but he offered up this definition of one: “Someone who can see past themselves.”

But just ask Rhoda Weisman, executive director of the Professional Leaders Project, an organization dedicated to developing the next generation of Jewish leaders. She said, “In all honesty, if you were to ask me what a definition of a mensch is, I would name you Gabe.”

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

Kim Krowne: ‘Hakuna Matata’Means Bringing Hope to Tanzanian Kids

Kim Krowne thought she’d be attending medical school. Instead, the 24-year-old Northridge native, a graduate of Sierra Canyon and Milken Community High School, spent most of 2007 and 2008 in Tanzania, improving the lives of orphaned children and many villagers. She’s been home for the past several months and plans to return to Africa in January.

ALTTEXTOnce a “total planner,” Krowne’s current philosophy of life is more hakuna matata — “there’s no problem” in Swahili, a language she speaks fluently. “Obviously, this was not my plan. But I love it. There’s so much work to be done,” she said.

The focus of her passion is the Matumaini Child Care Center, a small three-room building in the village of Rau that houses 20 children, ages 6 to 15. Krowne discovered it in the fall of 2006 while taking a year off after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where she fulfilled her premed requirements while majoring in the sociology and anthropology of health, concentrating on Africa.

At that time, the nongovernmental, nonreligious and nonprofit Matumaini Center cared for eight children whose parents had either died of HIV/AIDS, were alcoholic or couldn’t afford their care. Newly opened, it desperately needed funds for food and school fees, less than $20 annually per student. Krowne immediately e-mailed family and friends and raised $1,000.

She came home in March 2007 knowing she would return. Her last week there, she had met Michelle Kowalczyk, 27 and a nurse, and asked her to look after the kids, who then numbered 20. Kowalczyk also became enamored.

The following December, Krowne and Kowalczyk together formed a nonprofit, Knock Foundation (, to help solicit donations and grants. They also signed a five-year contract with Matumaini (meaning hope in Swahili) to fund the nonprofit and become decision-making partners.

When they returned to Tanzania they facilitated a host of improvements, including providing the children with nutritious meals, medical and dental care and school uniforms and supplies and paying salaries to the orphanage workers.

They also had bunk beds built in the rooms, upgraded the latrines, improved the general cleanliness and constructed a chicken coop on the property.

Their reach extends as well to the greater community in Rau and nearby villages, with the goal of making families more self-sufficient. One such effort, dubbed the Piggery Project, has provided 50 families with supplies needed to build a pig hut, as well as two pigs to raise. The families will keep some of the proceeds from the sale of the pigs and reinvest the remainder. They hope to expand the project.

They have also renovated a government medical clinic and dispensary in Shimbwe, the only health facility available to serve thousands of people in the Kilimanjaro region. In addition to repairing the clinic’s roof and painting its rooms, they purchased laboratory materials and medications.

Plus, they organized a two-day life skills and HIV/AIDS seminar in conjunction with a local NGO that was attended by 100 women and children. It will become a yearly event.

To date, Krowne and Kowalczyk have raised about $85,000 and need an additional $35,000 for 2009 to sustain the current projects. They would also like to construct a new building for Matumaini, start another orphanage and help provide secondary and university education for the children, among other dreams.

Kowalczyk marvels at Krowne’s ability to transcend barriers. “Kim has been able to reach people who otherwise would have been untouched,” she said. “We’ll be doing this for the rest of our lives.”

To make a donation or for more information, visit, call (818) 831-6075 or e-mail

— Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor

Unprecedented opening for Darfur action exists

It’s getting hard to think of Darfur as urgent these days. It’s not that things have slowed down. Quite the contrary. In the last year we’ve seen devastation on par with the worst of the fighting back in 2005.

The information just keeps rolling in — renewed bombings, attacks on Darfuri refugee camps, humanitarian workers under siege, more than 300,000 people displaced just since the beginning of 2008. But as we approach six years of genocide, it’s just hard to think of Darfur as urgent anymore. Genocide in Darfur has begun to feel, let’s face it, status quo. Stale. Old news.

But the truth is that committing to ending the genocide in Darfur has never been more urgent. Darfur activists are facing an unbelievable opportunity to affect real, lasting change in the region. And if we don’t seize this opportunity now, it could be a very long time before such a window opens again.

Three things are happening at once.

First, we have an American public that has been mobilized politically in record numbers. Darfur activists have a remarkable opportunity to harness this momentum while newly activated Americans are still ready to hear from us what the priority issues of the new administration need to be.

Second, we have an administration that for the first time in a long time is poised to change the prevailing attitude toward the United States within the international community. To do so will mean redefining American values toward the wider world and redefining American policy priorities.

President-elect Barack Obama has already promised his “unstinting resolve” toward ending the genocide in Darfur and, since 2006, has expressed that he sees the Darfur conflict not only as a humanitarian concern but as a national security issue, as well.

His recent nominations of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for secretary of state and Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador — both of whom have been outspoken advocates for stronger action in Darfur — are particularly encouraging, as they show that this new administration is committed to engaging with the world and to look at peace and prosperity worldwide as an issue for American national security. A bigger push by Darfur activists now will give Obama the grass-roots support — and the constant reminder — he needs to take a firm stance on Darfur.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we have a Sudanese president who for the very first time is facing a real and credible threat — prosecution by the International Criminal Court. When ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al Bashir in July, Bashir immediately spiraled through a broad range of reactions — denial of any wrongdoing, threats to suspend all agreements with the United Nations, promises to unleash a wave of devastation in Darfur unlike any the world has seen.

But in an attempt to win an Article 16 deferral of his prosecution by the U.N. Security Council, Bashir seems to have settled on at least a contrived attempt at cooperation. So far, none of Bashir’s superficial tactics seem to have won him much regard — at least the United States still seems unwilling to grant Bashir his deferral.

Bashir’s new “peace talks” were widely discredited and boycotted by rebel groups en masse. His long-awaited arrest of militia leader Ali Kushayb resulted only in the promise of domestic trials against him — promises that are as yet unfulfilled. His recent announcement of a unilateral “immediate and unconditional cease-fire” has already faltered amid allegations (though as yet unconfirmed) of renewed bombings in rebel territory. But Bashir is, at the very least, attempting to look cooperative in the eyes of the international community.

Coupled with renewed mobilization by the U.S. grass roots and mounting pressure by the president-elect’s proposed administration, Darfur activists have the opportunity to create an atmosphere in which Bashir feels threatened enough to make real concessions in Darfur. And with International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor poised to announce charges against rebel leaders that have attacked African Union forces, we seem to have hit on a prime negotiating position.

It’s going to take all of us — a tall order in a time of economic crisis, a time where our first instinct is to turn inward and take care of our own communities. One day in the near future, however, our economic crisis will have subsided. When that time comes, who among us will want to know that we stood by and did not take advantage of this chance to save lives and end a genocide?

Indeed, the price of inaction is too heavy a burden for people of conscience to bear.

It’s urgent.

Photographer documents life in Darfur

“When I first got to Iridimi and saw there was nothing, I asked myself: Is this really a place where a person can live?”

So confided one Darfuri refugee to photographer Barbara Grover, who visited the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad last year to document the lives of those displaced by the genocide in Darfur. The collection of images Grover brought back offers a tentative answer: Her portraits depict a people traumatized by war, yet able — through the aid of relief agencies and the sustaining human spirit — to maintain a measure of hope.

The 25 photographs that compose “Refuge(e): Moments with the Darfuri of Iridimi,” Grover’s exhibit now on display at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery in Santa Monica, offer fresh insight into an ongoing crisis to which many Americans no longer relate, the award-winning artist said.

“One of the problems with world conflicts of this scale is that people hear about the fighting and the killing, and at some point, they become immune to this situation that goes on and on,” said Grover of Silver Lake. “At some point, I believe people become almost combat fatigued. People need to reconnect to these issues on a human level. Until people understand the struggle that refugees go through every day, they won’t understand the severity of the situation.”

About 2.7 million people in Darfur have been driven from their homes by government-sanctioned Arab militias since 2003, according to the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW), a coalition of Los Angeles-area synagogues that advocates against genocide globally. At least 400,000 non-Arab Muslims have been killed, and women are routinely beaten and raped. More than 17,000 refugees who have fled the violence in Darfur live at Iridimi, an arid desert camp just across the Chadian border from the strife-torn region of Sudan.

In May 2007, Grover obtained a grant from JWW and special permission from the United Nations to spend an unprecedented seven weeks in Iridimi. She wanted to explore the crisis beyond the genocidal atrocities exposed by other photographers and humanize the situation for a wider audience, she said.

“I felt that by spending an extended period of time in a refugee camp, I could bring back stories and images that you can’t possibly get when you’re just there for a couple of days,” Grover said. “After so many years, refugees have to find a way to continue each day. I wanted to show how they’re rebuilding their lives.”

During her time in Chad, Grover stayed at the U.N. compound or with the relief organization, CARE International, but spent each day in the sun-parched, 4-square-mile Iridimi camp, where temperatures often hovered at 115 degrees. The refugees eventually warmed to her presence and allowed Grover to point her lens at the most mundane details of their lives.

“They knew I was there because I wanted to give them a voice and tell their stories,” she said. “Day after day, they got used to me, and they were very taken that someone really wanted to get to know them that well and bring their struggle to the world.”

We can continue to make a difference in Darfur

The beginning of a new year is always filled with hope, potential and opportunity for growth and change. The year we are putting behind us has not been an easy one. Our economy has entered perilous waters, with many people losing their jobs — and their homes. The war in Iraq is now in its fifth year. A series of hurricanes have ravaged our coasts. In our own lives, each of us has faced personal challenges that have tested our strength and resolve.

Amid all these issues, from the local to the global, it’s understandable that we should feel a sense of vertigo. We tell ourselves the situation is too complex. We ask ourselves if our efforts truly make a difference. We question which issues deserve the most attention.

Some have called this feeling “compassion fatigue.”

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve spoken about Darfur for five years straight now, and sometimes I get tired of talking about the genocide that has claimed 450,000 lives, just as I’m sure people get tired of listening to me talk about it. Yet for me, as for many other Jews, there is simply no choice in the matter. This is because as Jews, we know what it is like to have the world forget and to have the world fail to act.

But if we choose to not to raise our voices about Darfur now, what will our children and grandchildren say about us? The approaching High Holy Days draw questions like these to the forefront.

Many of us have answered by taking action on Darfur. Yet, now in the fifth year of this grueling genocide, some are also asking, “Did the letter I wrote to my senator help? Did taking part in that rally have an impact?”

The answer is yes. We may not be able to place a precise number on the lives saved as a result of our efforts. But we can say our activism has contributed to 27 states adopting divestment policies for Sudan. We know that we have made Darfur a foreign policy priority for elected officials, as well as the presidential candidates. And we have ensured that humanitarian aid continues to go where it is most needed.

Here’s what we can do now to help end the bloodshed: Push for expanding and enforcing an arms embargo to the region and pressure China, the biggest small arms dealer to Sudan, to stop the flow of weapons there. Let your senators know that you want the United States to support the embargo as a member of the U.N. Security Council. Tell them you want the U.S. government to use its influence to pressure China to stop underwriting the genocide with arms sales.

Now is not the time to diminish our resolve. Khartoum continues to deploy deadly air attacks. Last month, more than 30 civilians were killed when Sudanese government forces, armed with machine guns and automatic weapons of the kind sent by China, attacked one of Darfur’s largest camps for displaced people.

As Yom Kippur approaches, I am mindful of this passage from the Book of Isaiah: “Is not this the fast I look for? To unlock the shackles of injustice? To undo the fetters of bondage? To let the oppressed go free and to break every cruel chain?”

Nowhere have I been brought more closely in touch with the meaning of these words than when I sat with Darfuris in a refugee camp in eastern Chad, welcoming the new year. The High Holy Day is meant to stir us, to shake us to our core. It is meant to reconfirm our values and strengthen our resolve to live by them. Because at the heart of the holiday experience is this enduring ethic: We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to inaction. For Jews, life is about deeds.

When the shofar is sounded on the new year, it is to awaken us from our slumber to the need in this world. Let the shofar’s blast be a clarion call for each of us to remember that we can make a difference, and that each of us has a role to play to stop the killing in Darfur.

The action you take today or tomorrow on behalf of this cause likely won’t be the last. But it will be the right act, the necessary act at this moment in time. The people of Darfur are waiting for the world to hear their cries.

We must answer their call.

Rabbi Lee T. Bycel is executive director of the American Jewish World Service Western Region.

Awakening schmawakening, Darfur’s hope is grass-roots action

The Great Awakening


Am I the only reader who finds your celebration of the Rev. Rick Warren’s interviews with our presumptive presidential candidates very chilling (“The Great Awakening,” Aug. 15)?

The first nationally televised meeting of these candidates in a religious setting is frightening. It indicates again the growing erosion of our valued separation of church and state.

Is no one outraged by Rev. Leah Daughtry’s Faith Based Convocation before the Democrat’s Convention in Denver? Since when are Democrats the party of the religious? I thought Republicans had that franchise.

This is such pandering to religious voters right, left and center, it makes me wonder, where are our civil libertarians?

Please, wake up. Warren is not bringing the “Great Awakening.” He is dismantling our Constitution while too many of us sleep.

June Sattler
via e-mail

I almost always enjoy your column, and I did this one too. But to the best of my knowledge, including Internet research, Billy Graham is not “the late.” He is reported to be alive at age 89 and retired.

Michael Leviton
via e-mail

Dear Condi:

As your readers well know, Jewish World Watch has been at the forefront of Darfur activism in Los Angeles for the past four years. During those four years, our coalition of almost 60 synagogues has demanded from President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese President Hu Jintao and many others, immediate and significant action to stop the ongoing slaughter of innocents in Darfur, Sudan. We have done it through letters, phone calls, rallies, marches, and vigils. Those actions have led to incremental successes.

We are pleased to now have David Suissa participating in our calls for action, through his “Live in the Hood” column. (“Dear Condoleezza Rice,” Aug. 15)

We all know the frustration of continuing to watch this genocide enter its sixth year. In fact, last year we witnessed first-hand the suffering of the survivors by visiting the Darfuri refugee camps in Chad. The Darfur activist community knows that Sudan will not be stopped without significant international pressure, not only from the United States, but from China, Russia and, significantly, other African and Arab nations.

The only way to get this kind of international pressure is through persistent grass-roots movements, like ours, that make action in the face of genocide a domestic issue, with political consequences. It is the grassroots work that will, more likely than not, serve as the impetus for and foundation of whatever action our government takes in response to genocides like the one in Darfur.

We welcome Suissa’s letter and hope that it contributes to re-energizing our community in what may well continue to be a long road ahead.

Janice Kamenir Reznik
Co-Founder and President
Tzivia Schwartz Getzug
Executive Director
Jewish World Watch

In his column, David Suissa wrote movingly about his recent experience learning about the horrors of the Darfur genocide from a Darfuri refugee speaking at Beth Jacob Congregation. Suissa was so moved he felt compelled to write an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to intervene.

I couldn’t agree more with his passionate plea, but I was taken aback by his cavalier dismissal of the community-wide efforts that are so crucial to persuading policymakers here and at the United Nations. Suissa writes that when people asked what can be done, “The answers, of course, were weak. How could they not be? … typical activist ideas like ‘write a letter to your congressman’ (sic) ‘get on the Web and make a donation’ and ‘tell everyone you know’ are simply no match for this level of crisis.” I beg to differ.

While it’s possible that all it will take to move Rice to act is to hear from Suissa, those of us who have been working to end the genocide for years are in our turn skeptical of this strategy. I have the privilege of representing Temple Israel of Hollywood on the Jewish World Watch Synagogue Council, and we are among those thousands of activists who have been writing letters to our members of Congress, making donations and organizing community events and activities to tell everyone we know.

As someone who has been an advocate for civil rights for more than 25 years I know that success is not only difficult but a long-term proposition. Ending the genocide in Darfur is only possible if we are working on all fronts because this is what keeps the pressure on policymakers and leaders like Rice. It is our thousands of voices, letters and postcards that create an atmosphere in which it is impossible for Rice to turn away. Without them, it’s just Suissa’s voice crying in the wilderness, and while he’s both persuasive and important it’s hard to believe his column alone can do what all these other voices have yet to be able to accomplish!

Abby J. Leibman
Los Angeles

David Suissa’s open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strikes a personal chord. As a member of the board for Jewish World Watch, I have struggled with similar frustrations throughout these long years of combating genocide in Darfur. The work to end the genocide is daunting to say the least — it is difficult to continue work when successes are small, infrequent and feel only slightly incremental.

Within the already daunting task of ending genocide, it is easy to discount a donation to refugee relief as a Band-Aid solution. But Band-Aids serve their purpose — they staunch bleeding while we wait for a doctor. Refugee relief work in Darfur is having a very real — and very essential — impact. Solar cookers are protecting women and girls from rape by reducing their reliance on firewood.

Water reclamation projects are teaching long-term skills of conservation and helping to irrigate much-needed vegetable patches. Backpacks filled with school supplies and hygiene items are giving children an opportunity to see a future as doctors, teachers and translators, not soldiers in rebel armies.

Relief work won’t end the genocide. We must certainly continue our education and advocacy work worldwide in an effort to bring long-term solutions to Sudan. We must continue pressure on our government and international players to implement these long-term solutions. And in the meantime, we must work to ensure that the people of Darfur stay alive, safe, and are able to live with dignity while the work to end genocide continues.

Joy Picus
Board Member
Jewish World Watch

David Suissa adds his voice to the chorus demanding that something be done to stop the genocide in Darfur. He advises Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “go to Darfur” and “make a stink. Knock a few heads. Expose the criminals…. Create an urgent global coalition to save the Darfurians.”

The criminals have already been exposed. A global coalition to do what? I am still waiting for a prominent Darfur activist to call for what would actually stop the killings: A U.S./NATO-enforced no-fly zone, and U.S./NATO peacekeepers who would shoot back if the janjawid attacked them or attacked the refugees.

Without these, the genocide will go on until the killers decide to stop. Let’s not pretend; let’s not fool ourselves.

Paul Kujawsky
Valley Village

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks August 16-22: Politics, dance, education and music



In the role made famous by actor Kirk Douglas, dancer Arsen Serobian reinvents the legendary character of Spartacus for the stage. “An Evening of Khachaturian: The Composer and His Ballets,” presents excerpts from three of Aram ” target=”_blank”>


If there’s going to be gelato in a body-conscious city like Los Angeles, there must also be exercise. But instead of moving the clothes hanging from your treadmill, head to a night hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, followed by a delicious treat with MOSAIC Outdoor Club of Greater Los Angeles. Enjoy a 360-degree view of Los Angeles from the observation tower at a former military missile control site with your fellow hiking enthusiasts, and then partake in some gelato at Piccomolo in Pacific Palisades. Don’t forget some water, snacks, layers and your hiking A-game! Sat. 6:30-9:30 p.m. (hike), 9:45-10 p.m. (gelato). Free (hike), $5 (gelato). Meet at the intersection of Mandeville Canyon Road and Garden Land Road, Los Angeles. Piccomolo, 970 Monument St., Suite 118, Pacific Palisades. (310) 420-3600.



Families torn apart. Women raped. Charred bodies. Mass graves. How many times will we have to endure these horrifying images before we make “Never again” finally mean something? Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Paul Freedman’s stark new documentary, “Sand and Sorrow,” asks that tough question and others as he ” target=”_blank”>


What do artist Mariona Barkus and photographers Sheila Pinkel and Joe Ravetz have in common? Talent, strong opinions on political and social standards and the “Art and Advocacy” exhibit at the Platt and Borstein Galleries at American Jewish University (AJU). From Barkus’s black-and-white images and mixed-media sculptures to Pinkel’s and Ravetz’s photographs of imprisonment and homelessness, respectively, these artists use their work as a means to provoke thought and action. Meet the man and women behind the images at the exhibit dedicated to the memory of courtroom artist David Rose, a longtime member of AJU’s Fine Arts Council. Sun. 3-5 p.m. Exhibition through Nov. 23. Platt/Borstein Galleries, AJU, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 201. ” target=”_blank”>


Do you know the cultural differences among Serbs, Albanians, Bosnians and Croats? Did you know that there are dangerous neo-Nazi groups in Croatia? Were you aware that some Palestinians are actually of Bosnian descent? And did you ever think that one of the most complicated and least-understood modern historical events could be presented through comedy? The Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors Los Angeles is hosting comedian, author and pundit Julia Gorin in “Komedy and Kosovo,” a thought-provoking presentation that dissects a complex political issue that still holds relevance today. Come learn, come laugh and come with your own questions. Sun. 3 p.m. $12 (suggested donation). 20367 Lander Drive, Woodland Hills. (818) 704-0523. ” target=”_blank”>



Peter Ivers was a mischievous composer and host of the L.A.-based punk-comedy cabaret TV show, “New Wave Theatre.” West Coast punk acts like Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys shared the stage with such comedy players as John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis on the late ’70s and early ’80s UHF show. “New Wave ” target=”_blank”>


Jews have influenced America’s society and culture for more than three centuries. This impact is explored in “The Encyclopedia of American Jewish History,” edited by Stephen H. Norwood and Eunice Pollack with contributions from 125 noted scholars of American Jewish history and culture. Spend an afternoon with Norwood at the Museum of Tolerance examining the evolution of Jewish culture and ideology through American history. Wed. 2 p.m. Free. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2527 (RSVP required). ” target=”_blank”>, ” target=”_blank”>


Ethiopian Jew and Los Angeles icon Alula Tzadik is bringing the mountain to Muhammad. The avid musician and community activist figured if the religiously-disconnected Jewish teens loitering at the Third Street Promenade won’t come to synagogue for Shabbat services, he’ll bring Shabbat to them. Tonight is the first of a series of Promenade services to be held by the familiar dinosaur every fourth Friday of the month, with rabbis, cantors and musicians who are volunteering their time to reach out to the post-bar/bat mitzvah, pre-Birthright set. Fri. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. 1322 Third St., Santa Monica. For more information, contact Alula Tzadik, (323) 472-7484.

— Jina Davidovich contributed to this article

Dear Condoleeza Rice:

Last Saturday, on the Jewish Sabbath, I was attending prayer services at one of the big synagogues in Los Angeles, Beth Jacob Congregation, when something unusual happened that made me think of writing you this letter.

After the services, a young black man named Adam Akabar got up to speak. He was a Muslim refugee from Darfur, and he came to tell us his story and ask for our help.

His cause, he said, was to expose and protest the genocide going on in his homeland.

Akabar is a sweet-looking man, maybe in his late 20s or early 30s. In front of a few hundred members of the synagogue, he looked a little awkward, even intimidated. But he got more comfortable as he began telling his story. It started several years ago, when he was in college in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and he heard troubling reports from his home area of Darfur.

He got a digital camera and headed south to Darfur, where, at first, he worked as a translator in the camps for displaced persons. While interviewing people in the camps, he saw the extent of the atrocities, so he made it his mission to document them. For a few years, he secretly investigated and documented the genocide, until he was caught, shot and tortured by the Sudanese government.

By a stroke of luck, he was able to retrieve his memory cards when his camera was confiscated and destroyed and his pictures survived. Through the help of a U.N. official, he managed to flee Sudan, and, for the past year, has been traveling the United States with his photos and personal accounts to expose the ongoing nightmare happening to his people.

The pictures are so gruesome that the activist who accompanied him to the synagogue decided they wouldn’t be appropriate for an audience that included families with children.

The absence of pictures, though, didn’t stop members of the audience from expressing their sadness and frustration at the state of affairs in Akabar’s homeland.

When it came time to ask questions, one person after another, many of them children of Holocaust survivors, wanted to know: “What can we do to stop this genocide?”

The answers, of course, were weak.

How could they not be? When an estimated 400,000 people have already perished, and millions are still being “cleansed,” typical activist ideas like “write a letter to your congressman,” “get on this Web site and make a donation” and “tell everyone you know” are simply no match for this level of crisis.

It’s when I heard those weak answers, Ms. Rice, that I felt compelled to write to you.

Personally, I’ve been hearing about the crisis in Darfur for longer than I want to remember, and I’ve seen how celebrity activists and numerous groups around the world have done their best to expose and protest the genocide.

Yet, somehow, the years go by and the tragedy continues.

In the Jewish community, the word “Darfur” has become a shorthand for tikkun olam (healing the world). Sadly, though, we have reached the point where the infuriating absence of real progress has brought many of us close to “Darfur fatigue.”

So I am calling on you, Ms. Rice, for the obvious reason that as the top diplomat for the most influential country in the world, you have real power.

Still, while I am envious of that power, I confess that when I look at your sense of priorities, I’m not very optimistic.

I don’t understand, for example, how you could go to the Middle East 21 times over the past few years, and agonize for weeks on end on the Israel-Palestinian conflict over things like roadblocks, building permits and border crossings, and, while millions of Darfurians are going through a historical genocide, make only one short, ineffective trip in four years to that part of the world.

Even accounting for my innate cynicism about politics and politicians in this case, you probably not wanting to upset China, which owns a huge chunk of U.S. government debt and which sucks up 80 percent of the oil in the Darfur region your lack of a concerted response to this crime against humanity is disheartening.

Nevertheless, it’s still not too late to save the Darfurians who are still alive. Congress has already passed legislation expressing its outrage and empowering you to act. Your boss would love nothing more than a foreign policy accomplishment to salvage something to his tarnished legacy. And you can bet this won’t come from Jerusalem: You probably realize by now that in the present circumstances, a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians has the same likelihood of happening as Louis Farrakhan becoming an Israel-loving Christian evangelist.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that Jews don’t appreciate your 21 trips to the Middle East. It’s just that there are other areas, like Darfur in Africa, where millions of people are in clear and present danger, and they also need your immediate and undivided attention.

So go to Darfur, Ms. Rice, and make a stink. Knock a few heads. Expose the criminals. Do what you should have done a long time ago: Create an urgent global coalition to save the Darfurians.

You’ve already shown how you can bend over backward for the Palestinians, who have been under special U.N. care for decades, and who are easily the most coddled refugees in history.

Now show the world what you can do for the Darfurians, whose cause may not be as “politically relevant” as the Palestinians’, but whose humanitarian crisis has no modern-day parallel.

In the little time you have left, you can still make a difference. Just be as tenacious with Darfur as you’ve been with Jerusalem and Ramallah.

And if you decide to go, I suggest you contact Adam Akabar and ask him to show you some of his pictures. Just make sure there are no kids around.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

Activists champion Darfur in pre-Olympic vigil at Chinese Consulate in Koreatown

” title=”JWW”>JWW, including activists and representatives from 60 Los Angeles area synagogues, rallied today to ask the Chinese government’s to help stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

Organized by JWW Co-Founder and President Janice Kamenir-Reznik, the event featured speeches from U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (35th-CA), Rabbi Joshua Grater of Pasadena Jewish Temple,  Haig Hovespian of the Armenian National Committee of America, Pastor Samuel Chu of Immanuel Presbyterian Church and Rabbi Ari Leubitz of Bnai David Congregation.  To open and close the ceremony, Rabbi Ahud Sela of Sinai Temple blew the shofar to signify a call to action. 

The gathering at the Koreatwon facility aimed to call attention to the responsibility China has to the world as a country, world leader and Olympic host.  “We can’t transcend national boundaries while hundreds of thousands of people are killed. It becomes a sham,” Reznik said.

China is currently the chief diplomatic sponsor and largest foreign investor to the Sudan.  It is also reportedly supplying arms to Sudan, for use in Darfur, in breach of a United Nations arms embargo.

Since 2003 close to 400,000 civilians in Darfur have died as a result of violence, disease and malnutrition.  As one of Sudan’s largest oil exporters and closest allies, China has opposed continuous efforts to enforce international sanctions on Sudan.

Addressing the consulate directly, Hovespian said “You have an opportunity to take pride in yourselves in your nation for doing the right thing.” As the speeches concluded and marching began, protestors repeated, “Never again; never again.”

For the past six months, Jewish World Watch has held monthly vigils outside the Chinese Consulate as part of the four-year-old organization’s efforts to bring attention to the problems in Darfur. Other projects include helping fund medical clinics to aid Darfurian refugees, sending backpacks with educational, health and hygienic supplies, and providing solar cookers to minimize trips for firewood outside refugee camps.  Reznick told the group that the Torah tells us “not to stand idly while blood of others is shed.”

Welcome to the Orwell Olympics

Now that every dissident within a hundred miles of Beijing has been intimidated, jailed or internally exiled; now that the Chinese communist party has shut down formerly legal means of citizen redress, like petitioning the government; now that free assembly has been banned, unsightly small businesses have been bulldozed, hotel computers have been bugged, and the foreign press has been bamboozled, the “quiet diplomacy” favored until this week by President Bush and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has given way to Mr. Bush’s “>Washington Post, spokesmen for Beijing’s Olympic Organizing Committee and for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said at a recent press conference that “reporters did not actually need to visit blocked Web sites to do their jobs.” Sure enough, journalists arriving at the Olympic media center last week found that their Web browsers could not connect to sites like Western news outlets, human rights organizations, Wikipedia and Chinese dissident groups like the Falun Gong and Free Tibet.

Ever since Beijing won the venue for the games, M. Rogge has been telling everyone who’ll listen what a swell development this will be for free speech and human rights in China. Instead, foreign news crews have found their access to Tiananmen Square sharply curtailed – lest those images remind viewers of the tank crackdown of dissidents in 1989 – and thousands of non-violent protesters across China, according to a new Amnesty International report subtitled “Broken Promises,” have been persecuted, punished and jailed.

Last week Sen. Brownback (R-Kan.), whose rages I have previously not shared, released documents showing that international hotel chains have been required by the Chinese Public Security Bureau, under threat of harsh punishment, to install Internet spyware designed to capture Beijing’s hotel guests’ Web browsing history, their Googling, even their keystrokes, which means their e-mail.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the keystrokes of foreign tourists, athletes’ families and NBC executives were being captured today by the Chinese security apparatus. Nearly 30 years ago, soon after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing, I went to China as part of the highest-level official U.S. visit to date. The Chinese housed us in a campus-like compound of guesthouses, where we took walks between events. One member of our delegation, a National Security Agency staffer, pointed out to me a picturesque bridge where Henry Kissinger had often paused to chat privately with aides during his visits. Turns out that bridge, like all the places we stayed, was bugged. The upside of this was getting to go to a meeting in the new U.S. embassy in Beijing, where confidential conversations were enabled by entering a floating clear-sided room-within-a-room that totally reminded me of the cool cone of silence in the television series “Get Smart.”

China has come quite a distance since 1979. Economically its story is breathtaking, and freedoms like travel and property ownership have made demonstrable gains. But China’s human rights record remains depressing, its tolerance of dissent and minorities is minimal, its environmental damage to the planet is terrifying, its intransigence on the genocide in Darfur is unconscionable and its cheap exports are candy to American consumers.

The $900 million that NBC paid for the rights to broadcast the Olympics, like the billions that China spent to get ready for the games, have created a Potemkin village for the world to admire.

From Rupert Murdoch’s kowtow to the Chinese police state, which enabled him to crack the Chinese market by eliminating BBC News from his satellite television programming; to the complicity of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco with Chinese Internet censors, the rationale has always been the same: The more we engage with China, the more free their people will be. Once those 1.3 billion people develop a taste for openness, there’ll be no stopping them.

Why do I have the feeling that if hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports and of American business investments in China were not at stake, “quiet diplomacy” wouldn’t have become the slogan du jour?

President Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” wasn’t particularly quiet. President Bush doesn’t have to ask Mr. Hu Jintao to tear down the Great Wall of China, but the least he can do—now that the opportunity represented by the years running up to the Olympics has been squandered—is to use in public, in China, some of the lovely human rights language he claims he’s been saying in private.

Our president never let the bully of Baghdad crimp his freedom-agenda rhetoric. Why did it take him so long to send some public pro-democracy love to the Big Brothers of Beijing?

Marty Kaplan has been a political speechwriter, a movie studio executive, a screenwriter and producer, a radio host and a blogger. Today he directs the Norman Lear Center for the study of the impact of entertainment on society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly and

Don’t just sit there — do something

Monday, Aug. 4, marks the 10th year of the Teen Choice Awards, a ceremony that has put the limelight on every branch of entertainment imaginable — from Choice Movie Villain to Choice TV Game Show to Choice Music: Love Song. And this year includes one more category: the Do Something Award, which will go to one of nine finalists, age 25 and younger, who have ignited impressive change in the world.

Among the candidates for the $100,000 prize is Adam Sterling, a UCLA graduate raised in Oak Park who is now director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force (SDTF).

“It’s awesome, it really kind of validates my work,” Sterling, 25, said in a phone interview.

Already, 26 states have agreed to divest from companies tied to Sudan (Michigan recently became the 26th). The group pinpoints companies that the Sudanese government relies on to turn oil fields into profit.

And that’s the kind of project that catches the eye of Do Something, the parent organization of the award that bears its name. Do Something seeks out young teens who have the drive to help and volunteer, but not the means. Their Web site includes a list of causes, a search engine that finds volunteering opportunities based on location and a forum where teens can blog with one another about what they feel is important and what they’ve done. The site also encourages young humanitarians to apply for the Plum Grant: $500 given weekly to a different deserving youth who has headed a successful project. The Do Something Award is a notable amplification of the Plum Grant.

It’s like “grants on steroids,” explains Do Something marketing associate Jonathan Schilit.

The Do Something Award didn’t originate with Teen Choice. It used to be called the BR!CK Award, and the winner was given a brick — a non-flashy building block — during an hour-long special on the CW last year. And though the ceremony, conducted since 1996 during annual dinners, has included celebrities like country singer LeAnn Rimes, “it didn’t garner as much exposure as we thought it really deserved,” Schilit said. So this year’s nominee with the most votes will receive the traditional Teen Choice surfboard, with the Do Something logo splashed across it, during the broadcast on FOX.

Sterling’s up against teens saving sea turtles, establishing micro-clinics in the Middle East and leading anti-tobacco movements, to name a few. If he wins, he said he will give the $100,000 to SDTF’s parent organization, the Genocide Intervention Network.

When Sterling first learned about the atrocities in Darfur, he quickly found that because so few people knew about the genocide, he and his four other partners in the Darfur Action Committee of UCLA had to become their own experts. They now have staff in both Washington, D.C., and London.

“Our international coordinator coordinates work in the 18 countries that have initiated targeted Sudan divestment campaigns,” Sterling said, including Denmark, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.

Of course, this award, along with events like Live 8 and the fervent response to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” bring to light the ever-growing partnership between Hollywood and humanity. With celebrity leaders like Don Cheadle and George Clooney visiting Sudan and advocating for an end to genocide, Darfur has almost become a tabloid mitzvah.

“First, I think it’s real great that the ‘Teen Choice Awards’ and Do Something have taken the lead on recognizing humanitarian work through Hollywood,” Sterling said. “I absolutely think other awards shows should follow suit. We cover the bad things celebrities do, why can’t we shed some more light on the good things many of them do?”

Sterling was featured alongside Cheadle in the Hollywood documentary, “Darfur Now,” chronicling the lives of six individuals and their relationship to the genocide. However, he will leave behind the big screen to attend Berkeley Law School next year. But, maybe Teen Choice Movie Breakout Male isn’t too far off for this Southern California native.

“I’m going to be in ‘Ocean’s 14,'” Sterling joked.

Well, who isn’t?

Timing is everything in the Olympics — and in Darfur

Next week, people the world over will be riveted to the TV set as the spectacle of the Beijing Olympic Games unfolds and athletes go head to head in the competitions for gold medals.

Many of the races will come down to a matter of milliseconds. Finish-line results may be determined by momentum generated at the starting gate.

In other words, timing is everything.

The same thing could be said of the movement to stop the genocide in Darfur.

The Olympics is a time of celebration, human achievement, civility and a respite from the violence and chaos that fills our daily news. The Olympics are steeped in history, and the torch provides a symbol of hope for all of humanity. Like many people, I eagerly await the excitement of the Olympic Games.

However, I also live with the images of the many people I have met in Darfur and Chad who have seen their communities and lives torn apart. These vulnerable, precious human beings also yearn for the world’s attention. They are not anticipating medals; they simply want to know that the world cares and that we have the resolve to act.

A few months ago, southwest China was rocked by a massive 7.9 earthquake that left nearly 70,000 people dead. As China struggled with the enormous human and economic toll, the world responded with an outpouring of sympathy and relief. Many human rights advocates, including many Jewish organizations that had been aggressively pressuring China to take a more principled position on Darfur, temporarily suspended their efforts.

That was then. This is now.

With the Olympic Games fast approaching, it’s time for advocates to gear up once again and urge the Chinese government to act responsibly. The stakes are simply too high to hold back any longer.

A web of economic, military and diplomatic ties binds China to the Sudanese government’s systematic program of terror, rape and murder in Darfur. Over the past decade, China has invested more than $10 billion in commercial and capital investments in Sudan. Today, China is Sudan’s biggest trading partner, importing about two-thirds of all Sudanese exports and providing one-fifth of Sudan’s imports.

It is also Sudan’s number one small arms dealer, accounting for 90 percent of the small weapons imported into the country since 2004. These are the same weapons used by Janjaweed terrorists and other rebel forces to slaughter thousands of people .

Given these interests, it’s not surprising that China has been Sudan’s staunch ally in matters of diplomacy, steadfastly opposing sanctions proposed by the U.N. Security Council and other resolutions aimed at holding the Sudanese government accountable for the genocide of more than 400,000 people and the displacement of 2.5 million more.

Since the May 12 Chinese earthquake, the situation has only grown more dire.

For example, in mid-May, an estimated 50,000 people were forced to leave their homes in Abyei, a border region between north and south Sudan after fighting broke out between Sudanese government forces and south Sudan ex-rebel forces.

U.N. officials have warned of a major food crisis in the region, the result of a perfect storm of mounting violence, poor harvests and overcrowding in refugee camps. Since May, cereals, sugar and other essential rations have been reduced by half. Hundreds of thousands of lives are being threatened by the lack of food and disease. Each and every day, including the Olympic days, more and more human beings in Darfur and Chad will be affected by this growing regional crisis.

On July 14, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the court to issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Lt. Gen. Omar al-Bashir, charging him with several counts of genocide and many other war crimes. This is the first time the ICC prosecutor has prepared a case against a sitting head of state.

On July 8, a peacekeeping patrol in north Darfur state was ambushed. Seven African Union-U.N. peacekeepers were killed and several were wounded. These reasons and more are why advocates must turn up the heat on China. We are urging the Chinese government to do the following:

  • Publicly condemn the violence in Darfur. China’s silence on this issue has been deafening. Taking a hard-line position against the continuing genocide is an important first step.
  • Agree to end the sale of all small arms to Sudan. China sells small arms to Sudan with full knowledge that Khartoum continues to violate a U.N. arms embargo prohibiting the transfer of weapons into Darfur.
  • Call on Sudan to stop the genocide and comply with all existing U.N. Security Council resolutions. This includes pushing for the rapid deployment of African Union-U.N. Mission in Darfur forces to Darfur. Currently only 10,000 of the approved 26,000 are on the ground. Without their presence, the Janjaweed will continue to pillage the region.

China’s inaction to date is especially galling, given the theme of this year’s Olympics: “One World, One Dream.” According to the official Web site of the Beijing Olympics, the theme is meant to convey China’s commitment to “peaceful development, harmonious society and people’s happiness.” These words will ring hollow unless they are backed by real commitment on China’s part to end the violence in Darfur.

Now is the time to celebrate the achievements of the Olympic athletes; much more importantly, now is the time to celebrate the Jewish imperative to pursue justice in an active, passionate and strategic way. Our acts will make a difference; they are our legacy.

As the world’s leading athletes race for the gold this month, concerned citizens of the world — including many people of Jewish faith for whom Darfur has tragic, historical resonance — will be racing, too, to turn the Olympic spotlight on China’s track record in Darfur. The world will be watching. Timing is everything.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is American Jewish World Service Western Region executive director. Since 2004, he has made several trips to Darfur and Chad. To learn more about efforts to stop the Darfur genocide, visit

Attempt to pressure China on Darfur loses to the Olympics

Sudan’s president may soon be the target of an arrest warrant for the killings in Darfur, and Iran was blasted by the United States and Europe for testing the missiles it threatens to fire at Israel. But the international player accused of complicity in both developments appears to be getting a pass.

China has used its veto powers in the U.N. Security Council to block strong international action against the regimes in Tehran and Khartoum and has thrown them lifelines by continuing oil and arms trade, despite Western attempts at isolation.

Jewish groups have taken lead roles in drawing attention to China’s policies and specifically sought to spotlight the country’s record in advance of this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. Yet it appears as if China will suffer no significant international sanction when the games open Aug. 8.

President Bush will be on hand for the opening ceremony, despite calls from the American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that he stay home. Joining Bush will be Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has said that a nuclear Iran would be “a nightmare” and that international unity, which China has played a key role in blocking, could make military action unnecessary.

Calls for boycotts of the Olympics, some with comparisons to Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1936 Berlin games, also have been rejected by mainstream Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee both warned that challenging Beijing during the Olympics would not produce the anticipated results.

“The only thing that can affect China is the big Western powers in unison, but they will never do that,” said Raphael Israeli, a professor of Islamic and Chinese history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Only then would the Chinese do something as a gesture. They can absorb a lot if they don’t have to do anything practical.”

Just a few months ago, the value of the Olympics as a showcase for China’s exploding economic power seemed in danger of running aground. In addition to reports questioning the quality of Beijing’s air for elite athletes, some tried to brand the games the “Genocide Olympics” because of Chinese ties with Sudan.

Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic adviser to the games, saying “conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual.” Riots in Chinese-occupied Tibet led Elie Wiesel to organize fellow Nobel laureates to protest China’s brutal crackdown. In addition, a group of 185 Jewish leaders, mostly rabbis, called on Jewish tourists to stay away from Beijing.

As the Olympics draw closer, however, even activists are quietly admitting they are likely to go off without much of a hitch.

“It’s been frustrating,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, “because it doesn’t appear we’re being listened to.”

Valley ‘Walk for Darfur’ raises $35,000

More than 1,400 people marched up Vanowen Street and across Victory Boulevard in West Hills last Sunday to raise funds and awareness about the genocide in Darfur. The second annual three-mile Walk for Darfur raised more than $35,000 for Jewish World Watch’s work in refugee support, political advocacy and education.

Marchers carried signs and wore T-shirts that said, “Do Not Stand Idly By,” based on the biblical injunction to prevent suffering and injustice. Walkers older than 13 carried a memory card, telling the true story of a Darfur refugee.

Jewish World Watch says that 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced because of the Sudanese government’s campaign against black Africans of the Darfur region over the past four years.

“‘Never again’ is a slogan, a call for us to remember. ‘Do not stand idly by’ is a call to action,” Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Temple Or Ami told the crowd as they gathered for an awareness fair after the march at Shadow Ranch Park, across the street from the Milken Jewish Community Center, where the march began.

The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance teamed up with Jewish World Watch to establish the walk last year, hoping to bring more education and awareness to the West Valley, according to Tzivia Schwartz Getzug, Jewish World Watch director. Last year, 400 marchers raised about $14,000.

She said she saw many new faces among this year’s participants.

Many of the marchers were children and teens. High schoolers have been among the most active Jewish World Watch volunteers, and at the fair, several received certificates for completing Jewish World Watch’s advocacy training program.

At booths run by various synagogues and schools, kids and adults wrote wishes on dissolvable paper with wildflower seeds embedded, which they planted and took home. They beaded bracelets that spelled out Darfur, signed up to have trees planted in their homes and kept watch over — and then sampled — rice slowly boiled in a solar cooker.

The cardboard and foil solar cookers have saved thousands of women in Chad refugee camps by eliminating the need for them to expose themselves to danger while collecting firewood. Jewish World Watch has provided $2 million in direct aid to refugees since its inception.

Getzug said dozens of synagogues and schools organized teams for the march, and the event will focus continued attention on an issue that has dragged on for four years.

“We hear that many people are feeling frustrated or are getting tired of this issue,” Getzug said. “Our response is we can’t give up on this genocide. We can’t give up as long as the people of Darfur are still sitting in their refugee camps and the government of Sudan is still destroying all their villages.”

For more information, go to

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for May 31-June 6

SAT | MAY 31

Set somewhere between 2500 B.C.E. and 3000 C.E., Tony winner Mel Shapiro’s “Homer in Cyberspace” is a wildly innovative remake of the classic Odysseus ” target=”_blank”>

Los Angeles gets knocked for being light on culture and heavy on driving. Defying both of these stereotypes is Artwalk Culver City, a free daylong walking tour of 45 local art galleries and exhibition spaces, sponsored by Sony Pictures Entertainment and 89.9 FM KCRW. The thriving enclave will fling open its doors and welcome Angelenos for a day of art, live jazz, special promotions from the neighborhood’s restaurants and cafes, and, of course, lots of healthy, brisk walking. Following the art walk, the MOCA Contemporaries will throw a bash at the elegant, historic Culver Hotel. Sat. Noon-8 p.m. (gallery tours), 6:30 p.m. (MOCA after-party). Free. Intersection of Washington and La Cienega boulevards. (310) 253-5716. ” target=”_blank”>


Jewish World Watch’s (JWW) promise to “not stand idly by” as genocide or other human rights violations take place around the world will be put to action this ” target=”_blank”>

” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>second year. Pulitzer Prize-winning foodie Jonathan Gold will be one of several celebrity judges taste-testing the hundreds of lokshn (noodle), bulbes (potato) and matze (matzah) versions expected to be entered in the carbalicious contest. Attendees get to nosh, enjoy live entertainment, record treasured food memories at an oral history video station and take part in the awards ceremony. Sun. 1 p.m. $10 (general admission includes three tastings). Additional tastings are $1 for two pieces. Participating kugel chefs receive free admission. Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (213) 389-8880. ” target=”_blank”>

What better way to support Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Genetics Institute than to join your favorite athletes and entertainers during Cedars’ 23rd Annual Sports Spectacular. This year’s honorees include professional volleyball player Gabrielle Reece, L.A. Laker Derek Fisher and N.Y. Giant Michael Strahan. Snoop Dogg will light up the stage with other star-studded performances. Celebrity sightings aside, the event raised more than $17 million last year to further cutting-edge research into genetic disorders that affect children and adults, including mental retardation, dwarfism, deafness, malformation syndromes, as well as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Sun. 4-6:30 p.m. (silent auction and kids carnival), 6:30-9 p.m. (dinner and awards). $500. Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles. (310) 858-9217 or

Genocide 2.0

People who take their Holocaust seriously have to take other people’s holocausts seriously.

You can run tacky, self-aggrandizing advertisements in the Los Angeles Times for your Holocaust memorial ceremonies — ads that feature the faces of donors and dignitaries, as if we’re honoring them — but you honor the victims more by engaging in the day-to-day grunt work of preventing the next slaughter of innocents.

Of course you know by now that, since 2003, the Islamist government of Sudan and the Arab supremacist movement known as the Janjaweed have carried out a program of ethnic cleansing against African tribes in the Darfur region of Sudan. More than 250,000 Sudanese have died and another 2 million to 3 million have fled as a result of violence, starvation and disease. Jewish groups have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to confronting this genocide.

Organizations like the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) helped mobilize thousands of protesters, and out of Encino, Jewish World Watch (JWW) sprang up in 2004 to help address the situation. Longstanding Jewish organizations added their voices in Washington and abroad.

But guess what: It’s not enough.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with two Sudanese activists, one of whom had just returned from southern Sudan, and with leaders of JWW. The Sudanese’s message was fairly chilling: If you think it’s bad now, just wait.

“There is a war coming,” Francis Bok, of the American Anti-Slavery Group, told me.

In 2011, the Interim Settlement Agreement between the Muslim government in Khartoum and the largely Christian and animist southern Sudan will end. That deal, signed in 2005, has so far kept the war-torn nation together. The end of the agreement will bring with it the very real possibility of wholesale chaos and slaughter.

In this month’s Foreign Policy magazine, former U.S. Envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios corroborates Bok’s prediction. He outlines a scenario in which Sudan’s Islamic government in Khartoum could obstruct further peace negotiations and hardliners in the south could provoke a confrontation in hopes of securing battlefield gains, leading to a full-scale war raging throughout the country. That would destabilize Sudan’s neighbors, including Egypt, Chad and Libya; provide refuge and opportunity (again) for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda; and lead to far greater suffering in the Darfur region itself.

“Peace cannot be achieved in Darfur if it is not secured between the north and the south,” Natsios wrote. “The year ahead may be the most important in Sudan’s post-colonial history.”

Natsios quoted one African diplomat: “If the north and south return to war, it will unlock the gates of hell.”

I met Bok, along with Kola Boof, of the Sudan Sensitization Peace Project, and JWW’s founding president Janice Kamenir-Reznik at Milken Community Jewish High School, where the three were participating in a day to raise student awareness of the situation in Darfur. Bok had recently returned from Sudan, where he visited his native village of Gurian.

When he was 7, Arab Islamic raiders kidnapped him in the marketplace. He spent the next 10 years as a slave to an Arab farmer, enduring frequent beatings. When he was 17, Bok escaped. Within two years, he was testifying about Sudanese slavery before Congress and meeting with President Bush. Now Bok, who lives with his wife and two children in Kansas, lectures widely on Sudan and slavery.

“Francis is our Martin Luther King,” Boof said.

When he returned to southern Sudan for the first time since 1986, Bok found his village almost empty.

“Most people were killed,” he said. The survivors must have thought they were seeing a ghost.

“They had no idea who I was,” he said. “They thought I had been killed.”

But now such violence looks like the beginning, not the end. And activists like Bok hold out little hope for a settlement.

“We hope it will be peaceful becoming our own country,” Bok said of southern Sudan. “But nothing has been peaceful dealing with Khartoum.”

What, then, can we do?

China pumps the most cash into Sudan through oil purchases, and provides it with the most weaponry.

But Reznik knows a boycott on Chinese goods would be a hard sell. Her organization, which doesn’t buy Chinese, has to pay 40 cents wholesale for each of those green rubber SAVE DARFUR wristbands that it could get from China for just nine cents.

So Jewish World Watch and other organizations see the 2008 Olympics Games in China as a touch point for awakening the world to the current hardship and the coming catastrophe. They are planning a series of protests and educational opportunities throughout the Olympics to convince China to pressure Khartoum.

“We believe this is more effective than a boycott,” Reznik said.

Getting Hollywood on board has been helpful — director Steven Spielberg’s withdrawal from the Games was a high-profile move that helped push the Darfur issue to the front pages. But mass slaughter demands mass protest.

Tough as the situation is, taking action now can help prevent genocide in the future. After you attend a Holocaust memorial service, visit for a list of suggested actions — not a bad way to mark Yom HaShoah.

Briefs: Governator opens new Saban Free Clinic, Weisenthal Center pressures Swiss on Iran deal

Free Clinic Named in Honor of Sabans

The Los Angeles Free Clinic was renamed the Saban Free Clinic this week in honor of Cheryl and Haim Saban, who last month pledged a $10 million gift to the health care facility that treated Cheryl Saban some 25 years ago, when she was a divorced mother of two.

“This is what I call a match made in heaven,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the ceremonial unveiling Monday. “When you team up a great clinic like this with the extraordinary generosity and vision of Cheryl and Haim Saban, how can the people of California do anything else but win?”

The Free Clinic operates four facilities that handle 100,000 patient visits a year, providing physician services, disease testing, prescription filling and nutritional counseling. Co-CEO Abbe Land has said the Sabans’ unrestricted gift probably will be used to supplement decreased government funding.

Haim Saban is chair and CEO of Saban Capital Group and chair of Univision Communications; Cheryl Saban is the author of several books on parenting, marriage and child advocacy and founder of the nonprofit 50 Ways to Save Our Children.

“Our greatest wish is that this gift will create further awareness among the community and will drive additional contributions to support the long-term success of the clinic in providing health services to the uninsured in Los Angeles,” Haim Saban said.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Wiesenthal Center Urges Swiss to Cancel $18 Billion Gas Deal With Iranians

The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the Swiss government to cancel its $18 billion gas deal with Iran.

“This ill-conceived and ill-timed deal, signed in the presence of the Swiss foreign minister, bolsters the Iranian regime and weakens the international community’s efforts to use economic sanctions to force Iran to stop its nuclearization program,” said a statement by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the L.A.-based Wiesenthal Center and Leo Adler of the Canadian-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. The two released the statement following their meeting last week with Swiss State Secretary Michael Ambuhl in Bern, the Swedish capital.

“Further, press reports indicate that the bulk of the Iranian gas is destined for Italy and not, as was asserted, a way for Switzerland to lessen its reliance on Russian gas. So the question remains as to whose strategic and national interests are being served,” the statement said.

During their meeting with Ambuhl, Cooper and Adler also urged Switzerland to oppose the anti-Israel resolutions frequently approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Since the council’s inception, it has passed 20 resolutions — 19 against Israel and one on Burma — but nothing on the genocide in Darfur or the current crisis in Tibet,” Cooper and Adler noted.

â??- Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Chabad Hosts ‘Sober Seder’ — With Twists

Chabad offered a “Sober Seder” last Sunday that was traditional — with a couple of twists. For one, grape juice was used instead of wine. For another, every few minutes, someone shared his or her struggles with addiction.

During the service, a burly, middle-age man told the 100 participants: “I’m an alcoholic and drug addict.” As a result of his addictions, he said, he ended up “living in a cardboard box and pushing a shopping cart around. For food, sometimes I’d pull stuff out of garbage bins.” He now has his life back as a result of Chabad’s recovery program.

British-born Rabbi Mendel Cohen, 25, presided with an infectious energy, sense of fun and occasional moments of joyful dancing. Throughout, Cohen reminded the crowd — many of whom were graduates of Chabad’s residential addiction program — that recovery can be thought of as leaving Egypt.

One woman stood up to agree. Sobriety, she said, has released her from enslavement. A man in his mid-40s said the seder was “always a time to get drunk, from the age of 12. Chabad taught me how to live. I have freedom now, but inside I also have pain from my past, so I work through it every day.”

“Once I saw Judaism as the enemy,” he said. “Now I see it as my path to recovery.”

— Roberto Loiederman, Contributing Writer

UC Irvine Muslim Group Co-Sponsoring Talk by Strong Critic of Israeli Policy

Norman Finkelstein will speak at the UC Irvine student center on May 7 in an appearance co-sponsored by the Muslim Student Union. The former DePaul University professor is a vigorous critic of Israeli policy and author of “The Holocaust Industry” and “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”

UC Irvine has been at the center of controversy over what some Jewish students allege to be repeated instances of harassment and anti-Semitic speech, which the university has refused to condemn. Other students say the situation at UC Irvine is now dramatically improved and that the administration has been responsive to Jewish concerns.


Calendar Girls picks and clicks for April 26-May 2


Winner of the Camera d’Or prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, “Jellyfish” is another example of the remarkable cinematic explosion of Israeli films garnering ” target=”_blank”>

Saddle up your horses and head to Burbank for a lively Western-themed benefit, Wells Fargo’s “Hollywood Charity Horse Show,” headed up by one of the most iconic starship captains of our time, William Shatner, a.k.a. Capt. James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise. Let loose your yeehaws and yipees as the knife- and whip-wielding troupe Rancho Indalo Riders wow the crowd with their daring riding tricks. Then croon along with country music superstar Randy Travis as he serenades the crowd during a good ol’-fashioned country dinner party. Don’t forget to tip your cowboy hat to Ahead With Horses and the Camp Max Strauss Foundation, two incredible organizations that focus on the needs of children in Los Angeles that will be receiving the proceeds of this event. Sat. 4 p.m. (silent auction), 5:30 p.m. (arena show), 7 p.m. (dinner and concert). $250 (individual tickets), $2,500 (per table). Various sponsorships available. Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 840-9066. ” target=”_blank”>


Drape yourself and your children in white robes and flowing gowns mimicking the Israelites who fled from Pharoah in ancient Egypt during the “Interactive Family

Love, deceit, betrayal and political corruption are all themes coursing through the veins of the heart-racing play, “The Spark of Reason.” A sister’s revenge can be brutal. Throw in a lover’s deception and a teacher’s betrayal to the historic 24-year-old Baruch Spinoza’s trial for heresy in 1656 — carried out by the Jewish community in Amsterdam — and you’ve got one blisteringly dramatic play. An eclectic cast will rile your deepest emotions in a staged reading written and directed by Michael Halperin, inspired by a true story. Sun. 3 p.m. Through May 18. $10 (suggested donation). Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. R.S.V.P to


Have you ever been curious as to why so many Jews in America have latched on to the ideals of the left? Join historian and professor Tony Michel as he paints a detailed, lively portrait of the Yiddish socialist movement, along with the American Jewish experience, during a conversation about his newly released book, “A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York.” Examining the movement through in-depth research, Michel will share insights on Yiddish secular culture and Jewish left-wing activism emerging from social conditions on New York’s Lower East Side. Strike up a conversation with Michel as he signs a copy of your book during an event co-sponsored by Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, Reboot and the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies. Mon. 7 p.m. $5 (suggested donation). Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (213) 389-8880.

Have you always wished you could jump in and do the hora flawlessly at weddings? Have you wanted to join the merry circle of dancers after Shabbat services but been too embarrassed to try? Has your girlfriend been begging you to come with her to one of Los Angeles’ big dance sessions? The new beginner’s folk dance class at Temple Kol Tikvah is your chance to learn how to folk dance — from step one! Learn the basics at your own pace with the charming Cecilia of Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble. Before you know it, you’ll be swaying and side-stepping, laughing, making friends and burning some calories, too! Mon. 7-9 p.m. $10. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 784-0344.

Darfur project cooks up first for Bronfman prize

The simplest innovations sometimes lead to the greatest rewards, as Rachel Andres learned this week when she was named the 2008 recipient of the $100,000 Charles Bronfman Prize.

The annual prize is awarded to a person or team under 50 years of age, whose Jewish values spark humanitarian efforts that contribute to the betterment of the world.

In Andres’ case, her work gives succor to some of the most helpless and brutalized people in the world, the 10,000 refugee families, mostly fatherless, who have escaped the massacres in Darfur.

The genocide in the Sudanese province, now in its fifth year, has so far claimed 400,000 murdered civilians and created some 2.5 million refugees, predominantly women and children.

For the past two years, Andres has directed the Solar Cooker Project of the Jewish World Watch (JWW), which has expanded from a small Los Angeles base to synagogues, churches, schools, Girl Scout troops, civic organizations and individual contributors across the United States and parts of Canada and Australia.

The solar cooker concept is an elegantly simple response to a terrifying fact of life facing the women and young girls in the Iridimi and Touloum refugee camps on the Sudan-Chad border.

While foraging for scarce firewood outside the camps for basic cooking and water purification, the women and girls were in constant danger of gang rapes by roving bands of Arab terrorists.

If the women could somehow find an alternative source of heating within the camps, they could largely eliminate the assaults, reasoned Andres and her colleagues. Her answer was an effective sun-powered cooker made of cardboard and aluminum foil at a cost of $15 each.

Andres discovered a small Dutch company to furnish the material, which is shipped to the refugee camps. Doubling the mitzvah, the cookers are assembled in small camp plants by the women and girls over 14, who get paid for the work and become income earners for their families.

So far, 15,000 cookers have been distributed, which have also proven an environmental boon, slowing the deforestation of the region and cutting down the time women have to spend over open brick fireplaces.

Since each family needs two of the $15 cookers, JWW has pitched its donation appeal at $30. So far, more than $1 million has been received from some 20,000 contributors, mainly in $30 donations, though there have been larger gifts.

In the Los Angeles area alone, nearly 60 synagogues, from Reconstructionist to Orthodox, have joined up with JWW. As Andres was talking to a reporter, she interrupted herself to announce jubilantly, “I just got an e-mail from the United Methodist Church in Seattle, and its members are sending us $3,200.”

Andres, born and reared in Dallas, has been an activist since graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science. She credits her paternal grandmother for her sense of Jewish responsibility toward others, regardless of race or religion.

“Bubbe left Suwalki in northern Poland in 1919 and came to Texas,” she recalled. “Most of her family stayed behind, and 22 relatives perished in the Holocaust.”

Grandmother Andres took Rachel and her other grandchildren along to learn by doing.

“She had three sons; she worked in her husband’s grocery store; she wrote four books of Yiddish poetry; she met new immigrants at the airport and helped settle them; she was involved in the Arbeter Ring [Workmen’s Circle],” Andres said. “Her legacy to me was her sense of social justice. She was larger than life.”

In following her grandmother’s inspiration, Andres worked for 10 years at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as director of its Commission on Cults and Missionaries and subsequently as a volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles. She was also involved in a variety of other projects, such as the Breed Street Shul renovation and the Museum for the History of Polish Jews.

Now 45, she lives with her husband, Ben Tysch, chief administrator for the regional Planned Parenthood, 6-year-old Rebecca and 10-year-old Ezra in the Hancock Park neighborhood.

Andres is an active member of Temple Israel of Hollywood, a Reform congregation, and her two children attend the temple’s day school.

Asked how she manages her various responsibilities, Andres laughed and responded, “I really don’t know; I’ll have to think about that.” And, after a pause, “It’s a bit of a juggling job, but I’m focused on whatever I’m doing. I try to give it my all.”

She will use the $100,000 prize money “to expand the solar cooker project to more camps and to publicize the desperate needs of the refugees.”

JWW president Janice Kamenir-Resnick noted that “Rachel’s work with Jewish World Watch has made a huge impact on the lives of thousands of refugees.” Kamenir-Resnick joined Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in co-founding the organization and in nominating Andres for the Bronfman Prize.

Andres and her colleagues are sometimes asked why they spend their energies on the suffering in Darfur, rather than focusing on specifically Jewish and Israeli concerns.

She agrees with the answer given by Schulweis: “Some people say about the Darfur genocide that it’s an internal matter; that reports have been exaggerated. These are the same excuses we heard during the Holocaust,” Schulweis said.

“There is always an alternative to passive complicity,” he said. “If we now turn aside, that would be our deepest humiliation.”

The Charles Bronfman Prize was established by the children of the Canadian philanthropist in honor of his 70th birthday.

Andres is the fourth person and the first woman to receive the prize, which will be formally awarded May 6 in New York.

This year, some 80 nominations were received from individuals or for projects in 16 countries, including Iran and Belarus. One member of the prize selection committee, Dan Meridor, Israel’s former minister of justice, summed up the basis for this year’s choice: “The thread woven through Rachel’s life and professional career is that of uplifting others, especially the neediest, so that all individuals may live to their fullest,”

He added, “Caring for others is among the highest Jewish ideals, and Rachel’s work fully embodies that ideal.”

For more information on Jewish World Watch, visit

Bush should press China on cutting Sudan ties

Steven Spielberg announced recently that he had resigned as the artistic director of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, writing in a public statement, “I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual.”

Later, the Hollywood mogul would add, “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur. Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes, but the international community, particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering there.”

Spielberg joined two other groups of prominent figures that issued public statements this month condemning the Chinese government for its support of Sudan.

On Feb. 12, 120 members of the U.S. House of Representatives called on President Hu Jintao of China to use his influence with Khartoum to help advance peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in Darfur. In a separate letter to the Chinese president, a coalition of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Olympic athletes, celebrities and other notables criticized Beijing for its defense of Sudan in the United Nations and for continuing to engage in a vigorous trade relationship — oil being the key commodity — with President Omar al-Bashir and his despotic regime.

In the past five years the Sudanese government and its proxy militia, the Janjaweed, have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people and displaced millions more. Despite these atrocities, China continues to serve as Sudan’s most significant political, military and economic ally, repeatedly using its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to prevent the passage of strong measures against the Sudanese government.

While China did support a Security Council resolution last year calling for the deployment of a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur, the Asian giant sought to weaken that resolution before it was passed. China also doubled its trade with Sudan in 2007 and continues to supply Khartoum with weapons used to torture, rape and kill innocent Darfuris.

As Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, one hopes that Chinese leaders will recognize the absurdity of welcoming athletes from around the globe for a sporting competition based on the principles of good will and fair play while aiding and abetting a genocidal government. As actress and activist Mia Farrow said recently, “China hopes that these games will be its post-Tiananmen Square coming-out party. But how can Beijing host the Olympic Games at home and underwrite genocide in Darfur?”

Ironically, the theme for the Summer Games is “One World, One Dream.” Does this dream include the nightmares of the people of western Sudan?

As an American citizen, I would like to see President Bush demonstrate some of the courage and resolve exemplified by the celebrity activists, using his power to try to persuade China to change its behavior. If China does not cooperate, the president should reconsider his plans to attend the Olympics.

In so doing, Bush could rededicate himself to the cause. His record on Darfur is inconsistent at best, and he has done nothing constructive since pledging, ever so briefly, to tackle the issue in his January State of the Union address. What better way for a president to spend his last months in office than to help bring an end to the first genocide of the 21st century?

In a culture where celebrities often gain attention for their poor judgment and bad behavior, Spielberg, Farrow and the other high-profile activists — they include Don Cheadle and George Clooney — should be applauded for their justice efforts. Now we must join them in the struggle to save Darfur and to create a permanent anti-genocide movement.

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Rabbi Or N. Rose is associate dean of the rabbinical school of Hebrew College in Massacusetts and co-editor of “Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice” (Jewish Lights Publishing).

Briefs: JTN’s ‘Jewish Americans’ series gets big numbers; Darfur activists target China

‘Jewish Americans’ Miniseries Scores Big With Viewers

Jay Sanderson always thought that the story of 350 years of Jewish life in America would resonate well beyond the Jewish community, but even he underestimated the impact.

A look at the ratings of the six-hour PBS miniseries “The Jewish Americans,” aired in three segments in January, showed that some 3 million households on the average viewed each of the episodes, with the audience expanding from week to week.

These are impressive figures for PBS programs, augmented by sales of some 20,000 DVDs during the first week they became available.

Both statistical analysis and anecdotal evidence indicate that the large majority of viewers were non-Jewish families, said Sanderson, CEO of JTN Productions.

The company, an outgrowth of the Los Angeles-based Jewish Television Network, was the initiator, production coordinator and chief fundraiser for the four-year, $4 million project, Sanderson said.

His partners were producer/director David Grubin and PBS stations WNET (New York) and WETA (Washington, D.C.).

“‘I always believed if we told our story honestly, talking not only about our Nobel Prize winners but also about our gangsters, we would come up with a fascinating documentary of general appeal,” Sanderson said.

He thinks that the ratings confirmed his judgment, with some of the highest ratings reported in cities like Portland, Ore., with relatively small Jewish populations.

There were some complaints about a few “negative” episodes, a reaction Sanderson attributes to “the defensive nature of the Jewish community.”

In one New York panel discussion, an audience member objected to the mention of atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. A Los Angeles community leader protested inclusion of a statement by a Southern rabbi during the civil rights struggle, urging young Northern Jewish activists to go back home.

Both Sanderson and Grubin expect the film to have a long shelf life, with frequent reruns at home, showings abroad and as an educational tool in schools and universities.

Next on Sanderson’s agenda is a two-hour documentary “Worse than War: Understanding and Stopping Genocide in Our Time,” based on a new book by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.”

“We will deal with the Jewish experience, but we also have a moral imperative to speak of the genocides of other people in the Balkans, Africa and elsewhere,” Sanderson said.

Added the ever-upbeat Sanderson, “We hope to be a voice against genocide, in the way that Al Gore took on global warming in ‘An Inconvenient Truth.'”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish World Watch, Tinseltown Urge China to End Arms to Darfur

Leaders of Jewish World Watch (JWW), along with more than 25 supporters, were received with sealed doors and locked gates upon arrival at the Chinese Embassy in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 12. Holding a press conference during the “Global Day of Action,” JWW founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik pleaded for the Chinese to stop supplying the Sudanese government with firearms, helicopters and fighter aircraft. A Sudanese government-backed group is responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths and 2.5 million displaced people since 2003.

Conference speakers included the Rev. Howard Dotson of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, who explained that as a minister of the gospel, following the word of God is not easy, but God calls on us to protect our neighbors. “It is our moral duty to trump our greed and strategic interests,” he said. Others voicing concern were Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah and Stop Genocide Now’s Gabriel Stauring, who recently returned from visiting refugee camps in Chad.

The protest is one of many to come, announced Kamenir-Reznik, who said there will be monthly vigils at the Chinese Embassy until the August Beijing Olympics. Southern California synagogues are lined up to march with the goal of pressuring China to use its leverage with Sudan and end the Darfurian genocide.

On the same day, Steven Spielberg, film director and founder of the Shoah Foundation, announced his resignation as artistic adviser of the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies. Although China’s representatives have assured Spielberg in the past that they were working to end the tragedy in Darfur, “The grim realities of the suffering continue unabated,” Spielberg said in a statement.

Jewish World Watch, an organization formed to mobilize synagogues and surrounding communities to combat genocide and other worldwide human rights violations, presented an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, along with a faux lead medal signed by olympians, writers, actors, artists, Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel laureates as well as others.

Spielberg’s withdrawal has received “tremendous response from all over the world, from individuals and organizations,” said his spokesman, Andy Spahn. In response to the announcement, China released a statement saying the Games would be a success regardless, Reuters reported, Feb. 14.

“All preparation work for the Beijing Olympics is proceeding smoothly. The Chinese people are willing to work with artists from around the world with wisdom and talent and the Olympic Games will be a success,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao in a news conference.

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

I found unity, friendship and tzedakah in Anaheim

Imagine walking into a room full of 1,000 Jewish teenagers from all over North America who are singing in unity and celebration of their Jewish heritage.

This was the sight at the 2007 United Synagogue Youth (USY) International Convention. From Dec. 23-27, the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim became the center for teens from all over North American attending an amazing weeklong convention packed with social action projects, Jewish studies and most importantly, a focus on tzedakah.

What made this one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life wasn’t just the location, or even the number of people, but rather the friendships I made and the social action projects that we as a group helped bring to the world.

USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, is made up of 17 regions that span the United States and Canada. Every year at the convention, the 17 regions enter the grand ballroom of the hotel in an epic opening ceremony full of ruach (spirit) and regional USY pride. The roar from the crowd was intense, and it was clear that these Jewish teens were ready for what would be the most amazing week of their life. After the USY regional presidents introduced their regions, 2007 USY International President Aaron Jacobs banged the gavel, a roar of excitement swept through the crowd, and the convention began.

Since this year’s theme was tzedakah, we spent much of our time focusing on the many different mitzvah projects that we can do to help the world. Every day, USYers gathered in limmud (class sessions) in which we studied what Judaism said about the many different situations involving the giving of tzedakah. How much should we give? And to whom do we decide to give it? In addition to the discussions, we took part in helping make more than 1,000 tzedakah boxes.

The most extraordinary experience at this year’s International Convention was the walk to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur. On the morning of Dec. 26, all 1,000 convention delegates walked out of the Marriott Hotel for a three-mile march around the Anaheim Convention center. It was the first time I had participated in any kind of protest to fight for a cause, and, most importantly, it is a cause I feel connected to. Thousands in Darfur have been killed, left homeless and brutally injured. This is a national issue that needs to be addressed and stopped today! As Jews, we have been victims of genocide, and we promised we would never let something such as the killing of the Six Million Jews take place again. Yet a very similar situation is taking place in Darfur. We as a Jewish people need to unite and stand up to the rest of the world to help these victims.

At the end of the march, something amazing happened. Every single USYer started screaming, “One more time!” over and over. Without any warning at all, everyone rushed back outside the hotel in an attempt to do the march again. No one was satisfied with just one march. We felt there was much more that needed to be done and that there was so much more that we could accomplish. Soon everyone started joining in chorus of the song: “We’re not going to take it any more.” Unfortunately, we were forced back inside the hotel vicinity by the professional staff, but this situation showed me that when we as a Jewish people unite, we can accomplish anything.

Finally on Dec. 27 at 11:55 p.m., newly elected 2008 USY International President Adam Berman banged the Presidential gavel, thus officially ending the convention. Through all the activities and excitement, what I will always remember in addition to the march for Darfur are all the people I met and the friendships I made. The true beauty of USY International Convention lies within the people themselves. It’s hard to think that some of your best friends could live more than 1,000 miles away. But USY is a place where teens come together from all over the continent and form friendships based on the common ground of their Judaism and a desire to change the world for the better.

In the words of Far West USY President Kesha Dorsey, “an international convention exemplifies the reason why over 1,000 Jewish teens give up their individual winter vacations to gather; USY provides for opportunities beyond the educational and religious aspects. The sense of young Jewish unity carries so much weight that makes us determined to show the world that we are the next generation of Jews, and that a wave of passion will keep us strong!”

Matt Sackman is a senior at Hamilton High School Academy of Music in Los Angeles and the vice president of communications for the Far West region of USY.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15; deadline for the April issue is March 15. Send submissions to