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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven

NY Sephardic Community Rallies Against Genocide in DC

By Shelomo Alfassa

Image Magazine / June 2006

With signs of “Never again” and “Not on our watch,” Jews—young and old—representing dozens of different groups and philosophies, poured onto the National Mall in Washington DC for the “Save Darfur” rally on Sunday April 30, 2006. They had come from around the country to raise awareness about the genocide that is occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan, where a sovereign country is supporting militant groups that are attacking Sudanese citizens. To date, hundreds of thousands have been killed and many more injured in continued violence in this African country.

The event featured many prominent voices, including politicians and Hollywood-types. While the organizers had a permit that allowed up to 15,000 people to gather, there was easily twice as many that arrived on that bright warm day. The gathering was not a “Jewish rally,” even though a majority of the participants were Jews. These groups came after hearing a call from their rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union, Hadassah and other groups, that promoted the event as a worthwhile humanitarian cause.

But the Brooklyn community didn’t get the call to participate from the outside, instead, they learned about it first hand. Sam Sutton of the Brooklyn Sephardic community traveled to Darfur and witnessed the situation himself. Once the rally was scheduled, he and others, in true team effort, assembled a group that would participate. The Sephardic Bikur Holim arranged to have a bus ready for community members that wanted their voices heard—those that wanted to speak with their feet by being in attendance and being counted. Rabbi Ricky Hidary of Merkaz Moreshet Yisrael publicized the event through his organizational channels, and the AWARE Committee of the Bikur Holim helped plan the trip. Mindy Elo, Robby Setton, and David Dweck all pitched in and made it come together.

Mindy Elo greeted the over three dozen rally participants at 8am in front of the Sephardic Community Center for the ride to Washington. “After a four hour bus ride, there we were, standing in front of Capitol Hill. It was incredible to see such a diverse group of people united for one cause; coming together to help others that live on the other side of the world.”

Gloria Blumenthal of the Sephardic Community Center traveled with a different group to DC, she said about her experience, “I was enormously proud of the Jewish turnout from all segments of Jewish life.” Gloria’s synagogue filled two buses with people. “I saw yeshiva students, ultra-orthodox men and women, members of all synagogue movements. They were inundating the Mall in Washington D.C.” said noted.

The first speaker was famous author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, who with the diplomacy of a statesman stood at the podium in front of a screaming crowd, and in a broken up voice stated firmly, “In 1943, people were dying around me in the concentration camp, and the United States did not help! Now there are others in danger, and the United States should stand up for them, help them!”

Humanitarian groups say people in Darfur have become victims and are being killed, simply because of the ethnic group they were born into. We remember that historically Jews had to have suffer from pogroms and discrimination for the same reason. Gloria Blumenthal reminds us that we shouldn’t forget this, “We have not forgotten our experiences from both the long ago and recent past, and we don’t want to see others suffer the same as we have; this is why we are ready to work toward that goal by coming to rallies on behalf of other groups, such as those in Darfur. We will let our government officials know that they are being held responsible if they remain silent.”



Note: The author was on the bus and was a participant.


© Shelomo Alfassa