Ten years ago, the first genocide of the 21st century started in Darfur. It was another in the long list of 46 genocides since the Holocaust, when the world first promised “Never Again!” Despite that promise, we’ve heard a deafening silence from the world as each of these genocides unfolded.
During Rosh Hashanah in 2004, Rabbi Harold Schulweis challenged the Valley Beth Shalom Congregation in Encino to not stand idly by as another genocide happened in front of our eyes; he asked that we found Jewish World Watch, through which we could bring the lessons of Torah to bear on the horror being inflicted on humankind by perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.
The Valley Beth Shalom community responded en masse, calling upon Southern California synagogues to unify and raise their collective voices in outrage over the events in Darfur. Over the last ten years, more than 70 synagogues have answered that call; together we have marched, rallied, and advocated – locally, nationally and internationally. We sent delegations to travel to the regions we work in to bear witness and bring survivors the message that they are not alone.
In 2009, we learned about the mass atrocities being committed in eastern Congo, where 1100 women and girls are raped each day in a brutal war driven and funded by Congo’s rich mineral wealth. JWW mobilized and began a massive advocacy campaign highlighting the horrors being inflicted against the women and children of Congo.
From the outset, JWW has aimed to provide direct assistance to survivors. We began by building water wells, medical clinics, and schools for Darfuri refugees. When we learned that the women in the refugee camps were exposed to great danger when they left to gather firewood, we founded the Solar Cooker Project; now, it serves more than 100,000 refugees, and the availability of solar cookers has reduced the dangerous trips outside of the camps by up to 86%.
In Congo, we provide support to groups who are trying to empower Congo’s most violated and vulnerable populations. We have helped scores of local Congolese organizations offer life-saving services to women, including those who have been victimized and then abandoned by their families, and we work with groups who seek to assist children liberated from armed groups in reclaiming their lives.
Our new photography exhibit, a selections from which appear below, brings Rabbi Schulweis’ message to life. In large part, I took these photographs, along with several others who have been part of our travel missions to Congo and Chad. Every person whose picture you see has a story as unique and precious as your own story. Ten years ago, Rabbi Schulweis unleashed the power of each of these stories – theirs and ours – demonstrating clearly that a small group of committed people have vast potential to change the world.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik is co-counder and president of Jewish World Watch.