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Saperstein, Messinger Invite Activists, Rabbis to Fast for Darfur

Leading Jewish activists join “fasting chain” for Darfur begun by Mia Farrow, accompanied by participants across the world

Contact: Kate Bigam or Micaela Hellman-Tincher
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

June 15, 2009, WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two of the American Jewish community’s most respected activist leaders will join together this week in a “fasting chain” to call attention to the lack of aid for victims of the genocide in Darfur.

Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service, will fast by consuming only water Monday, June 15th and Tuesday, June 16th, joined by activists and lay leaders across the country who have volunteered to join her.

On Tuesday, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will take over for Messinger and begin a three-day, water-only fast through Thursday, June 18th. Rabbi Saperstein has invited rabbis of all four major streams of American Judaism (Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox) to join him for the final day of his fast. He will be joined by more than 55 rabbis from the United States, Canada, Israel and Mexico, including: Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in The Bronx, New York (Orthodox); Rabbi Shawn Zevit of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. (Conservative); and Rabbi Emerita Rosalind Gold of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation (Reform).

Messinger and Saperstein join a long-line of politicians, celebrities and activists in carrying on a water-only fast begun April 27th by actress Mia Farrow to call for the restoration of humanitarian aid to the people of Darfur.  Farrow's doctor ordered her on May 9th to end her hunger strike due to serious danger to her health. Since then, others have carried on for her, including: Sir Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of the Virgin Group; singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel; Congressman Donald M. Payne; and John Prendergast, Co-Chair of the Enough Project. More information about the chain of fasters can be found at www.fastdarfur.org.

On April 27th, Rabbi Saperstein was arrested in his third act of civil disobedience calling attention to the situation in Darfur, this time with longtime civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis and other members of Congress and leaders of Darfur advocacy groups.

Speaking to the importance of being a voice for Darfur, Rabbi Saperstein said, “As rabbis, our moral voices can influence activists and leaders to respond to the urgent threats to livelihood in Sudan. Together, we can inspire and even push our elected leaders to use their positions of leadership to influence the international community to ensure humanitarian access in Sudan and for a just and lasting resolution to this crisis.”

It has been more than three months since Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir expelled humanitarian aid groups from the country. Despite assurances that Sudan will allow international NGOs into the country and close the existing humanitarian gaps, the situation has worsened.  Aid groups report that their efforts to get aid to those who need it are unsustainable and insufficient. The onset of the rainy season will likely lead to mass migration and water-borne disease epidemics in internally displaced persons camps, putting, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon predicted, more than 1 million people at life-threatening risk. Negotiations about returning aid groups have not yet achieved real results.

Messinger says she is fasting so she can try to appreciate how it feels to be hungry and how difficult it is to function under such circumstances. AJWS has circulated a petition, along with a videotaped statement, to more than 70,000 supporters encouraging them to sign a pledge to join her. The statement can be viewed at www.ajws.org/darfurfast.

“Each day in Darfur, mothers and fathers look into the suffering eyes of their children knowing, like all parents, that they would sacrifice anything for their children not to suffer, but also knowing that there is nothing they can do as long as they remain in limbo,” Messinger said in her videotaped statement. “A person can suffer no greater indignity than not being able to feed his or her children or prevent dehydration that is often deadly.

“As difficult as it may be for us to function at a high level during our fasts, this type of hunger is an everyday reality for hundreds of millions of people worldwide; it prevents children from learning and adults from working productively to sustain economies; but just as importantly, it undermines the very kind of belief in a better future that is the lifeline for the world's most vulnerable.”

Follow along this week with live updates of the fast at Twitter.com/theRAC, and visit the RACblog for blog posts from Rabbi Saperstein, Messinger and participating rabbis.

To find out which rabbis from your area are participating in the fast, contact Kate Bigam at kbigam@rac.org or (202) 387-2800.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.



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