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Jewish Clergy Raise Call for U.S. Leadership on Sudan

Community of Conscience Fasts for Lives in Sudan as U.S. Envoy Testifies on Current Situation, Plans for the Future

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 30, 2009 – A  wide array of  Jewish clergy from across the continent are calling attention to the atrocities occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan by participating in a rolling, water-only fast to show their solidarity with the Sudanese.  The fast has been underway for nearly six weeks, and is scheduled to continue through the start of the Jewish New Year in late September.

At today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan General Scott Gration characterized his task as “almost mission impossible,” noting the urgency of bringing peace to Sudan.  He testified that, almost five months after the expulsion of 13 humanitarian aid groups from Sudan, large gaps, especially in health care and gender-based violence programs, remain in some areas, while other areas have untenable emergency aid operations.  General Gration seemed optimistic, however, that the new aid organizations promised entry to Sudan will be allowed to operate, helping to move the situation beyond what Senator Kerry classified as the “miserable status quo.”

After today’s hearing, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism remarked that, “The repeated failures of the Sudanese government to live up to its agreements indicate that any optimism must be tempered by a realistic assessment of the situation on the ground.  All people of conscience must remain vigilant and engaged concerning the pattern of ethnic cleansing by the Government of Sudan.”

From June 16th through 18th, Rabbi Saperstein participated in a three-day, water-only fast begun by actress/activist Mia Farrow, as did Ruth Messinger, Director of American Jewish World Service, that same week.  For the final day of his fast, more than 80 rabbis from five countries joined Rabbi Saperstein. The current, “rolling fast” by rabbis and cantors is a direct result of their desire to continue raising awareness within their communities about the plight of Sudan.

Since late June, rabbis and cantors across the United States, Canada and beyond have pledged to fast for one day apiece in this ongoing fast, with dozens more pledging to participate in the days to come. These clergy have taken their advocacy beyond fasting by mobilizing their congregations to join them, reaching out to their elected officials, holding local awareness events and planning for participation in the interfaith weekend of action and prayer for Sudan at the end of August.

Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, Kansas, is fasting today, which is also the holy day of Tisha B’av, a day when Jews around the world remember the destruction of ancient Jewish holy sites. Rabbi Shuval-Weiner says is fasting “Because on this day when we mark senseless destruction targeting our community it is imperative that we stand against modern hatred and destruction aimed against any people.”

This effort is spearheaded by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Union for Reform Judaism, with co-sponsorship from the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the American Conference of Cantors, Jewish World Watch, the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, American Jewish World Service, Rabbis for Human Rights North America, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and the Rabbinical Assembly. 

To learn about rabbis and cantors fasting in your area, please 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 1,800 Reform rabbis.



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