Interfaith “Day of Conscience” calls for intervention in Sudan

A parable from the great Jewish sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was uttered on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 25, as some 200 people of diverse backgrounds and faiths gathered to call attention to the situation in Sudan. A group of men are together in a boat, and one starts boring a hole beneath his seat. When another man asks what he is doing, he responds, “It is not your concern; the hole is only under my seat.” The other man replies, “You will sink the whole ship, and we will all drown.”

“These brutal acts of horror must be the responsibility of all of us,” said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The Holocaust. The Cambodian killing fields. The Armenian genocide. All of these were invoked at the interfaith rally to call attention to the horrors taking place in Darfur, Sudan. The “Day of Conscience” in San Francisco was one of many such interfaith events taking place nationwide to focus on the crisis. Among them was a breakfast that day in Marin.

As described by Glen Galaich, director of the Northern California chapter of Human Rights Watch, and Sudanese native Silvestro Akara Bakhiet, president of the Pageri Organization and representative of the Diocese of Torit-Sudan, the situation in Sudan is extremely dire. A government-backed militia known as the Janjaweed has been killing tribal farmers, raping women and razing homes and villages. More than 50,000 people have been killed and 2 million have been displaced.

Kahn also quoted Israeli poet Avraham Shlonsky, who visited a destroyed Europe at the end of World War II and wrote, “Lest from this we learned nothing.”

Those attending the noontime rally at City Hall wore green ribbons to show solidarity with the people of Sudan. Each speaker released a white dove after speaking. Kahn frequently invoked the Holocaust in his remarks. “The perpetrators thrive on the world’s silence, we know this all too well from our own history, so we must not be silent,” he said. “We must not be numbed by our own inability to see each human being as made in the image of God.” Kahn continued, “Indifference is not an option when the threat of genocide looms.”

Each speaker emphasized that the international community must intervene, or it would be held accountable. Haig Baghdassarian, government affairs director of the Bay Area Armenian National Committee, began his remarks by declaring that it was almost 65 years ago to the day that someone asked, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Of course that someone was Adolf Hitler asking that question in 1939, as he was about to wage his war against the Jews. It was only 20 years after the Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians.

Calling the 20th century the “bloodiest century of all time,” Baghdassarian warned, “Let’s act now so that in 20 years, no one will say ‘Who remembers the annihilation of the Sudanese?'” Other participating organizations included the United Religions Initiative, American Jewish World Service, San Francisco Interfaith Council, Beyt Tikkun, the Anti-Defamation League, and Muslim, Protestant and Roman Catholic groups.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) co- sponsored a Vigil for Sudan on August 25, 2004 at 12:00 noon at the SF Civic Center plaza with the Jewish Community Relations Council and other Bay Area faith-based, humanitarian, and human rights organizations for the victims of massive humanitarian and human rights violations in Darfur, Sudan.

The Save Darfur Coalition, composed of faith-based, humanitarian and secular civic organizations, has identified Wednesday, August 25, 2004 as Sudan: Day of Conscience. On that day, communities across North America are urged to engage in interfaith activities — designed to raise public awareness about the horrific situation in Darfur and to urge the international community to take immediate and decisive action to stop the killing, the rape, and the destruction of villages, and to assure that humanitarian relief reaches all those in need as quickly as possible.