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Genocide in the Human Heart: From Holocaust to Darfur

Dialogue between a rabbi and a contemporary African politics professor focusing on incidents of massive mass killing where ethnicity, race and religion played a role.

Community Contact Information:
Congregation Beth Israel
Walla Walla, WA

Goals: 

  • Provide historical information about Holocaust 
  • Provide current news and analysis of Sudan crisis
  • Debate issues re: genocide, responibility of individuals & governments

Overview:
This program featured a moderated dialogue between a rabbi and a contemporary African politics professor focusing on two incidents of mass killing where ethnicity, race and religion were implicated in the killers’ plan. Through this event, the congregation helped raise the local community’s awareness about the ongoing tragedy in Darfur.

Preparation:
Sadly, until this event, there had not been any discussion in our community about the ongoing tragedy in Sudan. The Congregation wanted to change this. The synagogue partnered with: the Public Library; the City; the local newspaper; the Politics Department of the local college; the College newspaper; the local state university; the Save Darfur Coalition; and the State Holocaust Education Resource Center, all of which publicized the event through their various communications channels. In addition, the local radio news program interviewed the rabbi of the congregation.

The program was funded by a generous grant from the State Humanities Council, which provided support for: the rabbi’s travel; planning meetings via conference calls; and publicity materials. The Humanities Council also publicized the event across the state via its communications network. The program took place at the Public Library's event hall. Volunteers served as ushers and hosts, and staffed an information table with Darfur advocacy materials.

Project Implementation:
The speakers started with statements about the two respective mass killings, each presenting a different way of trying to make sense of them. Following these presentations was discussion in which the rabbi and professor discussed the reasons for, the implications of, and some possible ways to slow or stop genocide in the world. The speakers then responded to audience questions.

After the program, a group of attendees committed to meeting several weeks later for a letter-writing party to federal elected officials. Accordingly, about a dozen individuals, Congregation members as well as community members, gathered on International Human Rights Day at the Synagogue. There, they wrote a large stack of letters about concerns about the United States' role in bringing an end to the killings in Darfur. Several continued to write letters throughout that winter.

Results:
The project turned out to be more successful than expected. The standing-room only audience remarked that they appreciated the chance to hear both from an academic expert as well as a member of the clergy (who is also a trained family therapist). This interactivity was the unique strength of the program.

The event helped the Congregation infuse an awareness of Darfur into other moments in our year, utilizing RAC's excellent materials whenever possible, including at holidays (Passover)

The event also catalyzed interest in other aspects of the Holocaust, which led to a presentation by a local historian, who gave a public talk at the Synagogue about his recent book on ‘Righteous Gentiles’ during the Holocaust.

This program received a Fain Award in 2009.