“Haman then said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the stewards for deposit in the royal treasury.’… And the king said, ‘The money and the people are yours to do with as you see fit’” (Esther 3:8-11).
As a people painfully familiar with the horrors of genocide, we know all too well the persecution that comes from being a people “scattered and dispersed,” with laws “different from those of any other people.” Today, thousands of people around the world are persecuted because of differences in race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. The genocide in Darfur is only the most recent such crisis to find the global spotlight.
Yet the story of Purim is also a lesson in our own responsibility. At the end of the megillah, we read that on the thirteenth of Adar, the day before Purim, the Jews kill 75,000 of their enemies. While Purim is a day on which we celebrate our victory over Haman’s plot to destroy us, we must remember the violent way in which we triumphed. None of us are blameless. In honor of Purim, let us take the opportunity to learn about persecution and human rights violations and work towards peaceful solutions to these conflicts.
The first step in responding to a humanitarian crisis is to become educated. The following organizations can help you learn more about persecution and other human rights issues in countries around the world:
American Jewish World Service - AJWS is an independent not-for-profit organization founded in 1985 to help alleviate poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the world regardless of race, religion or nationality. It breathes life into Judaism's imperative to pursue justice and helps American Jews act upon a deeply felt obligation to improve the chances for survival, economic independence and human dignity for all people. AJWS' grant making fulfills both Jewish and humanitarian responsibilities for people around the globe.
Amnesty International - Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights. AI’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. In pursuit of this vision, AI’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of human rights.
Human Rights Watch - Human Rights Watch is the largest human rights organization based in the United States. Human Rights Watch researchers conduct fact-finding investigations into human rights abuses in all regions of the world. Human Rights Watch then publishes those findings in dozens of books and reports every year, generating extensive coverage in local and international media.
Religious Action Center - The RAC, the Reform Movement’s political voice in Washington, DC, regularly highlights current global issues on its website. Check out its “Issues” page for up-to-date information on a variety of issues, including human rights.
Jewish activism in reaction to the atrocities in Darfur serves as a useful model for responding to humanitarian crises:
Wear a green wristband or ribbon (available at www.savedarfur.org). Hand them out with a flyer explaining why it’s important to draw attention to the situation in Darfur. Ask a teacher, an administrator, a public official or a local celebrity to wear a green wristband or ribbon.
Host a potluck dinner, listen to an audio essay or watch a video presentation about Darfur, organize a teach-in or a presentation, or invite an expert to speak about Darfur. Prepare information sheets, hand out green wristbands or ribbons and provide sample letters for participants to send to our national leaders.
Send emails, letters, faxes and make phones calls to government leaders to take action in response to humanitarian crises. The websites listed above have a wealth of information for talking points to use in conversations and letters to legislators.
Start a petition calling for a strong response to instances of persecution. Remember that petitions should include the names and addresses of the signatories and the petition statement should be printed on the top of each page. Address the petition to the President and send copies of the petition to your local Senators and Representatives.
Pledge to Donate Money to Human Rights Organizations
During your celebration of Purim, pledge a certain amount of money for every time Haman’s name is mentioned during the megillah reading. AJWS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are all worthy organizations fighting to end human rights violations and assure that all people can live lives of dignity. Check out their websites for more information about specific projects you can contribute to or other grassroots programs these organizations support.
Program Ideas for Groups: Religious School Classes, Youth Groups, and Congregations
During the crisis in Darfur, synagogues and Jewish communities across the country have reacted with a variety of campaigns, vigils, demonstrations, and other events to raise a Jewish voice against the atrocities, calling for the imperative “Never Again” to be the watchword of our country’s response to the genocide being perpetrated in the Sudan. What follows are some suggestions of responses to persecution that would be appropriate to hold in conjunction with celebrations of Purim.
Organize a Candle-Lighting Ceremony or Candlelight Vigil
On August 25, 2004, congregations around the country participated in a Day of Conscience in recognition of the situation in the Sudan. Again in July 2005, the US observed the Days of Reflection for victims of the crisis in Darfur. Interfaith services were held, with Jews, Muslims and Christians praying together for an end to the bloodshed in Darfur. These events were used to alert the country to the atrocities occurring in Darfur, in the hopes of motivating people to action. Reform congregations played a significant role in these events. Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC held a multi-faith service that included Jews, Christian, Roman Catholic, Hindu-Jain, Sikh, Baha’i, Mormon, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian faiths. In Durham, NC, Judea Reform Congregation held an interfaith Service of Conscience for the genocide victims of Darfur, calling for an end to the bloodshed in Darfur. Temple Israel, of Omaha, NE was joined by representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the Mayor’s Office, Reform and Conservative Temples, The Islamic Center of Omaha, the Catholic Archdiocese, the Hindu Temple and two Southern (Christian) Sudanese congregations to hold a joint press conference at the city/county chamber’s office addressing the crisis in the Sudan.
According to the Book of Esther, the thirteenth of Adar, the day before Purim, is the day on which the Jews battled their enemies, killing 75,000 people. While we celebrate our triumph over those who would destroy us, we must not ignore the violence we ourselves employed. By holding a candlelight vigil on the thirteenth of Adar, we recognize our own culpability and remember those who have been lost to persecution and ethnic violence.
Call for a Ta’anit Esther- Fast for Humanitarian Crises
The day before Purim is traditionally Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates the three-day fast that Esther asks the Jews to hold before she goes to plead before the king. Fasting for a day is not only a very personal way to tap into your compassion for the suffering of others, but also a very powerful way to act in solidarity with the people being persecuted. Hold a community-wide fast the day before Purim in solidarity with those who are suffering and donate the funds that would have been spent on meals. The money can be donated to organizations like the Save Darfur Coalition or any of the humanitarian organizations doing relief work around the world.
Julie Silverman, a congregant at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX has founded “Dolls for Darfur,” a grassroots social justice effort designed to urge members of Congress and President George Bush to approve legislation that would help bring an end to genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Participants can make Dolls for Darfur pins to raise awareness and funds for relief and can fill out postcards to send to legislators, urging them to support current legislation responding to the crisis. Visit www.dollsfordarfur.org for more information.
The University of Virginia Hillel held a weeklong initiative to raise awareness about genocide, specifically in the Darfur region of Sudan. Three prominent professors at the university led a discussion on genocide in the past century. The lecture series included but was not limited to the Holocaust, Boznia-Herzegovenia, and the current situation in Sudan. Another professor spoke about United States politics and genocide and a graduate of the university discussed his personal experiences in Darfur. For more information about this weeklong program, visit Hillel’s website and search the Program Bank for “Day of Conscience.”
Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA launched the Dear Sudan, Love Contra Costa County campaign for education, advocacy, and fundraising for Darfur. As part of the campaign, which included letter-writing, petitions, and a candlelight vigil, Temple Isaiah joined the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, an alliance of 40 member organizations and numerous individual members, including some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most prominent community leaders, activists, and academic experts. Their website is a resource center where activists can obtain and provide information, publicize events, gather news, and share ideas and resources related to the situation in Darfur. Temple Israel also signed the coalition’s Unity Statement, calling for the United States to advocate for UN involvement in the region to bring an end to the genocide.