Sudanese refugee children and Hillel Israel students at a neighborhood party in Beersheva, Israel.
Hillel activists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are helping hundreds of refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan to adjust to life in Israel.
“All of Hillel Israel’s centers take the value of tzedek very seriously,” said Yossi Goldman, president of Hillel Israel. “Ben-Gurion Hillel is a prime example.”
Two years ago, through a partnership with Montreal Hillel and a program called Gesher Chai, or Living Bridge, Israeli and Canadian students created a public awareness campaign in Beersheva about the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan before the topic arose on the public agenda.
“The issue of Sudanese refugees has become more critical, and the students responded accordingly, on two levels: awareness and involvement through informal programs, and the establishment of a formal group to help the refugees,” said Goldman.
In May, a standing room only crowd gathered for a showing of the movie "Hotel Rwanda," followed by a personal testimony of a Sudanese refugee. In early June, 200 students, 30 refugees, and BGU dignitaries including the university president, attended an awareness-raising conference about the condition of the Sudanese refugees in Israel. Later that month, 45 BGU Hillel students traveled to Jerusalem to join a demonstration on behalf of Darfur refugees. Most recently, Mahar, a social action group at BGU Hillel, held a large neighborhood party to which children refugees were invited.
“These and many other students are demonstrating their sense of social responsibility as part of the Jewish identity that Hillel helps them develop,” said Goldman.
Not satisfied with the sporadic nature of these activities, a group of Beersheva and Montreal students established a local chapter of STAND, the international student anti-genocide coalition.
It is their hope to unite all the student groups that have been working with Darfur refugees under the new chapter of STAND to more efficiently help the refugees in the Beersheva area.
“Israel was built by a nation that knows first hand the meaning of the words persecution, genocide, and exile,” wrote one author of the Gesher Chai blog. “Therefore, Israelis should not fear suddenly being swamped by thousands of refugees fleeing Darfur. Rather, Israel should fear turning away an opportunity of using the history of its people in order to uplift the history of another people.”