In December of 2005, our co-chairs of the Barnert Temple's Social Action Committee approached the Executive Board with the goal of educating our community about the genocide in Darfur in order to promote the concept of social justice within the framework of Jewish values. As Jews, we felt that we could not stand idly by and watch the persecution of any race. History tends to repeat itself but that does not mean that our community should be silent.
We began by presenting the idea of utilizing various advocacy materials and exercise equipment to bring our community together with the objective of making a difference in the crisis in Darfur. With the encouragement of our Rabbi and the support of both the Executive Board and the Board of Trustees, four months later the event became a reality. Members of the Social Action Committee as well as the entire Barnert community pulled together to make the day an event that far exceeded our monetary goal of $30,000 with a limited budget of under $800.
We approached local fitness stores and gyms who generously loaned us treadmills and stationery bicycles for the weekend. One temple member who owns a furniture store donated a truck and movers to pick up and deliver the equipment to the temple social hall. Another member, with an engineering background, re-wired all the electrical outlets to accommodate the equipment. Various temple groups (the Men’s Club, Sisterhood, Youth Group, etc.) “adopted” a piece of equipment, committing to have someone on the treadmill or bike for the entire six hours of the event. Additional members and those from outside the temple as well filled in remaining open spaces. All those participating, as they entered the building, singed health release forms designed by an attorney. Participants signed up in 15-minute intervals and obtained sponsors to donate for time rather than distance. The rationale for this was so everyone, of all ages and levels of health, could participate. Times secured ranged from 15 minutes to 2 hours and 45 minutes. Those 13 and older were permitted on the equipment and those younger than 13 jumped rope. A few of the very young children used hula hoops. Participants ranged in age from 3-79.
With the goal of further educating our community about the genocide, and advocacy table, staffed by well-informed temple members, was created. There was extensive information available to read. Participants could also write postcards and letters to our Senators and President Bush about their frustrations regarding lack of involvement by our country to stop the genocide. They could either use their own words or copy from the form letters provided. Over 200 letters/postcards were sent. A “Dolls for Darfur” poster was also created here and was later taken to the Save Darfur Rally in Washington, D.C. “Stop the Genocide” t-shirts and ?Not on My Watch? bracelets were also sold. All proceeds went directly to the cause.
Other creative programs included a moving power point slide show of photos depicting the current events in Darfur. This was developed by our temple and Men’s Club presidents and ran continuously in a private room with an age restriction due the sometimes graphic nature of the material. Powerful and moving artwork created by the children of Sudan was on exhibit in the foyer of the temple for all to see. There were also raffle prizes, which included a donated treadmill by one of our local gyms. A local caterer prepared and donated all the food to be sold at the event. The Sisterhood provided kitchen and sales assistance. Our cantor rook responsibility for obtaining live music and filling in with CD’s. There was also a “sign up table” to encourage people to do more by attending the rally in Washington, D.C. As a result, over 120 members attended the rally that day.
Lastly, the Darfur Rehabilitation Project was invited to join us. They graciously sent an incredible Darfurian survivor/escapee who spoke eloquently with small groups of people ranging in age from 10 years old to adult for the entire six hours. He held the listeners in rapt attention with his personal accounts as well with issues taking place in the region.
Almost 40% of our congregation participated in one way or another, and donations continue to come in. Informative programs to raise awareness of this genocide, as well as others similar to it, continue to be a part of the Bernert community and information is disseminated regularly. Pamphlets describing how to stay active in the cause surround a large tzedaka box on a designated table just outside our sanctuary door.
The majority of proceeds went to the American Jewish World Service, earmarked for humanitarian aid, and the rest went to the Darfur Rehabilitation Project.