Jewish Students STANDFast to Call Attention to Crisis in Sudan
April 11, 2005Comments (0)
| E-mail this to a friendJewish students across the United States and Canada united in their support for those suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan by participating in STANDFast events on their campuses on April 7. Hillel partnered with mtvU and STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) to call attention to the atrocities taking place in the African nation, where hundreds of thousands have been subjected to violence, killed and driven from their homes.
"Hillel's student activists mobilized on campuses around the country and helped make a huge difference on and before April 7's STANDFast. mtvU is proud to have Hillel as a partner as we speak out against the genocide in Darfur," said Ross Martin, head of programming at mtvU.
Students were encouraged to give up one everyday purchase on April 7, which was also the 11th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, and donate that money to relief efforts in Darfur. Many activists went beyond collecting money and used the day as an opportunity to educate fellow students about the crisis through guest speakers, concerts and a mock refugee camp.
UCLA Hillel and the Darfur Action Committee cosponsored a discussion with Ruth Messinger, the president of American Jewish World Service, who recently returned from a mission to Sudan and gave students a firsthand perspective on the plight of the Sudanese refugees. The Darfur Action Committee also hosted a "BREAK FAST" that evening to mark the end of the daylong events, featuring musical performances and photos of Darfur.
Sarah Novick, an organizing member of the Darfur Action Committee and former Tzedek chair at UCLA Hillel, has been involved with the committee since its beginnings last fall. Through her outreach to other campuses, she has found that many of the leading voices about Darfur on college campuses are Jewish.
"We feel the connection, we feel the urgency, and we can identify with the horror. We feel the need to do something about it," Novick said. "It's been a long time since students have banded together for such a cause."
Though the students at California State University-Northridge (CSUN) have not been rallying around the cause for as long as their counterparts at UCLA, CSUN Hillel JCSC Fellow Alicia Cohen took advantage of the attention surrounding STANDFast to raise awareness about the issue on her campus.
"The more I was talking to students on campus about Darfur, the more I saw that they didn't know what was going on," Cohen said.
Cohen approached an African student organization on campus to plan an event, and together the Jewish and African students handed out information about the crisis and 250 green ribbons to symbolize those who are suffering. They also collected more than 100 signatures for a Hillel-sponsored petition on Sudan.
The events started a day early at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hillel, where Students United for Darfur Awareness Now (SUDAN) set up a mock refugee camp on April 6. Students spent the night in the camp while handing out information, collecting signatures for a petition and selling green bracelets. The camp remained up until the following evening, when more than 300 students moved to the North Carolina Hillel building for "Dinner for Darfur." Local restaurants donated food, and students paid $5 to eat and hear from conflict-resolution expert Elizabeth McClintock, who offered insight into the difficulties of resolving global conflicts and the years of rebuilding and reconciliation that follow.
Anna Thompson, who founded SUDAN as part of her Tzedek internship at North Carolina Hillel, said she was thrilled with both the number of students who attended and their level of engagement with the situation.
"It was definitely a good atmosphere. Everyone felt they were making a difference," Thompson said. "It's definitely one of those things where a lot more people know about it now than they did last semester."
Though the event fell in the middle of an exam period for students in Montreal, more than 250 people attended a benefit concert for Darfur cosponsored by Hillel Montreal, Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International and the Black Students Association. Planned with only two weeks' notice, the concert featured performances by several area bands, a local dance troupe and an a cappella group. Students also heard from Dr. Acol Dor, a Sudanese refugee, and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, a local rabbi who has been active in the cause. The concert raised about $3,000 for relief efforts in Darfur, according to Jenna Benn, the project coordinator at Hillel Montreal.
"Quite a few people came to the show not knowing about the situation in Darfur," Benn said. "Everyone was very moved. People walked away wanting to do something about it."
The students plan to continue their call for action in Darfur through the rest of the semester and beyond. Janice Kamenir-Reznik, the chair of Jewish World Watch, will speak at CSUN this week about how the Jewish community can respond to the crisis, while UCLA's Darfur Action Committee is sponsoring a letter-writing campaign. SUDAN at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is bringing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has written extensively about the violence in Sudan, to campus on April 13 and is organizing a "Stand for Sudan" rally the following day.
Students are also encouraged to collect signatures for a petition sponsored by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life; American Jewish World Service; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; KESHER/Union for Reform Judaism; KOACH/The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger; and the Orthodox Union. The petition calls for the United States to use its influence at the United Nations to increase the number of international troops in Sudan, impose an arms embargo and sanctions against the Sudanese government and rebels, and support all efforts to bring justice to Darfur.