"To make a difference, you don't have to change the world all at once. You save the world one act at a time."
The words of Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, held great meaning for the standing-room-only crowd at Hillel's Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. Rabbi Sacks' visit coincided with the opening of "Darfur Drawn: The Conflict of Darfur Through Children's Eyes," a one-of-a-kind art exhibit that showcases children's drawings from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. The chief rabbi was on hand for the exhibit's Washington debut and then shared his thoughts about the conflict through the lens of his latest book, "To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility."
"We have to hear the cries of those children whose pictures are displayed here," Rabbi Sacks told an audience of area college students, community members and media. "May we have the merit to bring hope to the children of Darfur and all over the world."
No strangers to genocide, the Jewish community is uniquely equipped to help victims of violence deal with the trauma, Rabbi Sacks said. He recounted several instances in recent history where Jews have helped the neglected and unheard in society raise their voices and fight for a better future. He recalled a team of aid workers in Kosovo who recruited Israeli youth to help local children readjust to life at school after the violence in 1999. And when the jobs of South African gold miners were threatened after Britain announced it would sell part of its gold reserves, a simple call from Rabbi Sacks to the finance editor of the British newspaper The Guardian led to a story that helped to persuade the government to cancel the sale.
"Once in a while, the Almighty gives each of us that moment when we can make a difference," he said.
Rabbi Sacks also noted similarities in response, or lack thereof, of world leaders to the situation in Darfur and earlier catastrophes like the Holocaust.
"I think Darfur is a political scandal. People knew what was happening. The same was true about the Shoah [Holocaust]," Rabbi Sacks said. "We are living in scandal after scandal after scandal. We always hear the words 'Never again' – are we taking that literally?"
He encouraged students to take action, no matter how small it may seem, when social injustices arise, and posited that only after justice is served can the survivors begin to heal from their traumas.
"First you need justice, and then you go through the process of reconciliation," he said. "Apology and forgiveness are an important part of the healing process, but only after you've gotten justice."
Hillel International President Avraham Infeld praised his longtime friend for his work.
"The fact that the queen, prime minister and chancellor of the Exchequer turn to you for statements on social policy is a demonstration of the fact that you are a special person," Infeld said.
"Darfur Drawn" was presented in cooperation with Human Rights Watch and was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Frank and Claire Darmstaedter Estate through the UJA-Federation of New York.
"Darfur Drawn: The Conflict of Darfur Through Children's Eyes" is open to the public at Hillel's Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center, 800 Eighth St., N.W., in Washington, D.C. Visitors are invited to view the exhibit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.
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