Words of Spiritual Guidance, Needham Town Meeting, Rabbi Carl M. Perkins
There is a particular verse in the Book of Leviticus that my religious tradition – and the traditions of many of us here this evening, as well, I’m sure – takes very seriously. That verse is, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” According to this verse, each and every one of us has a duty to interfere, a duty to get involved, when someone’s blood is being shed. It is wrong to remain indifferent.
Few people would quarrel with this. Most of us would readily assist a neighbor in distress. And yet, in the global neighborhood in which we live, it’s less clear how we should respond. What if we see a neighbor in distress not in person, but on the television, or in the newspaper? What if that person doesn’t live across the street, but on the other side of the world?
Right now, as we are gathered here at a quintessentially democratic Town Meeting, unspeakable suffering is taking place in a place called Darfur, in Western Sudan. Janjaweed militia, supported by the Sudanese government, are expelling, abusing and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from Darfur. This is ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, perpetrating a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.
What’s going on in Darfur isn’t just murder and mayhem. It’s a calculated effort to wipe out an entire group That’s called genocide. Genocide is a word that came into being only in 1944. It was created by a man named Raphael Lemkin to describe the Turkish effort to wipe out the Amenians during World War I, or the Nazi effort to wipe out the Jews in World War II. Lemkin hoped that by naming and defining this crime, it would make it easier to prosecute its perpetrators.
One might have hoped that, once genocide was defined and labeled a crime, it would vanish from the face of the earth. But this has not come to pass. In every decade since World War II, somewhere in the world, whether in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia or Kosovo, genocide has taken place.
And it’s taking place right now in Darfur.
What can we do about this? The answer is: plenty. First of all, we can educate ourselves. We can learn what’s happening there, and share our learning with others. Second, we can urge our government to act. Several years ago, President Bush labeled what is going on in Darfur as genocide. This is admirable, and yet a nation with our influence and resources can certainly do more.
Let me bring to your attention one local step that we can take -- a very local step -- yet one that can have a profound impact on our community’s consciousness of this humanitarian disaster. Alan Greenfield, a Needham resident and a member of my congregation, is contacting houses of worship, businesses, and other institutions in town with a simple proposal: to put up banners, posters and signs that can draw people’s attention to the wanton suffering in Darfur. He’s willing to pay for them and to put them up; all we have to do is say the word. I hope that when and if you and your congregations or businesses are contacted, you’ll respond affirmatively.
Let me emphasize that this is not – in my view – a partisan matter. It is a humanitarian one. If we truly believe that all men and women are created equal, that all of us are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, such as life and liberty, then it is hard to justify indifference.
Many men and women and children have suffered already in Darfur. Nonetheless, it’s not too late for our nation to try to stop an on-going genocide in its tracks. It’s not too late to save Darfur. If we act now, we can prevent further suffering.
Let us do just that. Let us not stand idly by. Instead, let us speak up for and let us take steps to save the innocent.