Tag Archives: relief efforts

Avoiding Darfive

It is often in the absurd that poignant insights are provided.  In his new movie, Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character responds to a question regarding his social involvement:  “Darfur is old news…what about Darfive.”  He is commenting on our need to move on to what is fashionable and that human tragedies go in and out like the latest clothing designs. Painful as it might be, the suffering of the Darfuri people has not ended like an episode of a television drama. It has been a six-year long human catastrophe, and sadly there is no end in sight.

I just returned home to the Bay Area after spending 10 days in Eastern Chad, observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in Darfuri refugee camps.  There are no Jews there, but there are millions of humans struggling to survive.  Having lived my life as a middle class American, I will never be able to communicate what life as a Darfuri refugee entails. I can only tell you what I have just seen.

I’ve seen hundreds of children under the age of six born in the camps, whose only experience of life so far is one of poverty, food rations and houses made of sheets and mud. I’ve seen women being wheeled miles back to the camps on wooden platforms over pitted roads, just hours after giving birth in an aid clinic. I’ve seen families building dirt shells around UN tents to protect themselves from ravaging heat, wind, and rain.

Since my first trip to the area in 2004, the camps now look like a village but a village without freedom, security, education or jobs. Because the people have had no choice but to live this way for so many years, things have normalized in a sense—if I can even connect such devastation and loss to anything normal.

Since 2003, four hundred thousand Darfuri people have lost their lives. Three million have lost their homes and all that a home represents.  For me, as a rabbi, there could be no better place to welcome in a new year.  Here, I am reminded of the brightness of human compassion and connection.  These are people often forgotten, living in the remotest part of the earth. They are surviving because of their resilience, their courage, and their refusal to give up hope.  Somehow they go on with minimal food, water and shelter. Their battle is not a political one; they are simply victims of ethnic cleansing, of genocide.  They wonder: Does the civilized world care? Have we been left to die?

I believe that our lives are inextricably linked. As long as we are allowing people to suffer this way, not just in Darfur, but in so many places in this world, our lives cannot really flourish.  Indeed, we can take great pride in so many human accomplishments.  Yet in terms of how human beings treat each other, perhaps all we can feel is embarrassment.

What can we  do in our own communities to help? We can first remember the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote from his Birmingham jail cell: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we allow such cruelty to take place anywhere in the world, might we also allow it here, in our home?   We are known as Americans for being being a community with a social conscience; does that conscience only extend to our immediate local concerns?  If we can’t find ways to help, who will?

There is much that can be done. We can provide financial support and aid. We can send letters and simple reminders to let them know we care. We can educate ourselves and stay informed. We can keep the plight of the Darfuri people on the minds of our families and friends. We can urge our country’s leaders to do more.  The tragedy of Rwanda did not need to unfold as it did; we failed to put pressure on the White House to act.

Darfur has been called the first genocide of the 21st century.  What a horrific attribution with an implication that there will be others.  Are we doomed to have others?  I believe not, if we can find the courage to see that human dignity and human rights are worth our sustained support.  It is time now to end the suffering of Darfur, lest we have Darfive, six and seven.

Ultimately, it is about the world we leave our children. When our grandchildren ask us, what did you do to help the Darfuri people, will we be embarrassed or will be able to say that we did everything within our power to help.

Like many holidays, the Jewish New Year is meant to shake us to our core and to remind us of our personal responsibility to be engaged global citizens.  Nowhere on earth could this message have been more deeply felt than sitting with the Darfuri refugees.

Our ability to respond and to care is immense—limited only by our own fears and doubts.  The people of Darfur are waiting for us to be bold, imaginative and do whatever we can to help restore their lives.

Lee Bycel is Executive Director of the Redford Center, based in Berkeley, CA. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  He raised $100,000 for humanitarian aid prior to his recent trip.

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Darfuri Refugees’ Letter to President Obama

Last week, we brought you reflections from Rabbi Lee Bycel as he embarked on a visit to a Darfuri refugee camp in Chad. He returns with this letter from the Darfuri refugees to President Obama.
Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jillaryrose/).

Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jillaryrose/).

Guereda, Eastern Chad
Rosh Hashanah 2009

A letter to President Obama from the Darfuri refugees,

As a rabbi I sit here welcoming in the new year with Darfuri refugees, people of great courage, strength and determination. I am here to celebrate the opportunity of a new year, with people who need not just our prayers but also our actions.

I have spent the day at the Mille camp, home to 17,000 Darfuri refugees. I first came here in 2004, soon after their arrival. A few remember my visit.  They all remember your visit to Mille, also in 2004. Several people showed me their picture with you and told me how happy they are that you are now president.

Mr. President, the years since your visit have taken a great toll on the people. Some of the 13 year old girls you met are now mothers. Many of the boys are now soldiers. Many refugees have died and many new ones have arrived. The UN tents which are now severely torn and ravaged reflect the lives of the refugees.

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

Fifty babies a month are born in the Mille camp. Six hundred a year; about three thousand since your visit. Children like Sulaman, Hassan, Sumayah and Kadidya. They have wonderful smiles and beautiful eyes. Like our children, they want security, food, water and shelter. Thanks to the US, other countries and the humanitarian community, they have the minimal amount of each in order to survive.

For them, for their parents, their daily prayer is to return to Darfur. They are innocent, good people, as you have said “victims of genocide.”

Enough is not being done. They are waiting…waiting very patiently for their nightmare to end. I have synthesized their message for you.

Remember us. Remember your time here at Mille. Remember our situation. Remember our faces. We want to go home to Darfur and live in peace. We want to rebuild our lives. Please, please Mr. President do everything in your power to help us. Too many years have gone by. We need you. We do not know what to do but have great confidence in you. Our prayers are with you and your family.

Thank you,

The Darfuri refugees in Mille, as communicated to Rabbi Lee Bycel on September 18, 2009.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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A New Year: Is There Hope For The Darfuri People, For Us?

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

No one says it…but the uneasy feeling was palpable.  I  could see the questions in their eyes:  Why are you going to spend Rosh Hashanah in Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad?  Why would a rabbi welcome the Jewish New Year in a place where there are no Jews?  Do you really think going will make a difference?   I understand these questions.  I only regret that they are rarely asked aloud.  I have had lots of time to reflect on these questions on this three day journey to a place that is far more distant from San Francisco than the days of travel to get here.

I am here in Eastern Chad, this epicenter of human suffering.  I am here with fellow human beings, reminding them that we do care and we have not forgotten.  I am here listening to their stories and letting them know that I will bring their stories home.  I am here because our worlds are inextricably linked.

I first visited here in 2004 and since then I have returned several times.  The Chadian people are some of the poorest people on the planet.  Here, 275,000 Darfuri refugees have found a fragile safe haven in UN tents.  These shelters provide minimal protection from the harsh conditions of sub-Saharan Africa and not much more from the storms of conflict.  The plight of the Darfuri people – the nearly three million displaced from their homes and the four hundred thousand dead – has been well documented.  Our advocacy and diplomacy has had some impact on decelerating this genocide, now in its seventh year.   Our humanitarian aid has saved lives.  Still, the situation on the ground remains dismal.

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that celebrates renewal and creation.  It implores us to care for each other and to care for this planet.  It reminds us that as long as there is life there is hope.  What better place to welcome in the New Year than with the victims of man’s brutality to man.  Although we have yet to turn our powerful prayers into a world that is just and humane, I have hope—and hope is all these refugees have.  It is their lifeblood.

As I sit here with new friends and refugees whom I have known for years, I marvel at their ability to survive. The soul of a refugee camp resides in the courageous people who dwell within it. The silent screams that echo through the camp are those of a people who are asking if the world still cares.  My presence, it could be any of us, conveys that we do care and we are doing our best to restore their lives.

These refugees are the victims of horrific events: genocide, climate change, lack of resources and a world that is confused about its humanitarian priorities. It is no longer possible to separate these problems; real solutions will only come when we think and act in integrated ways. Ways which allow people to live with inalienable rights – to food, shelter, potable water and the absence of violence in their day to day lives.

There is currently much discussion about the role of the US and what international pressure should be applied to change the situation.  This work is essential and provides hope for long term solutions.    Immediate humanitarian needs, however, cannot be overlooked.  My friend Adam cannot wait another year for drinkable water; his daughters cannot wait another day for a life without the constant threat of rape; the elderly and the infants cannot survive another winter without shelter from the torrential desert rain.  Where will the aid come from unless we help to provide it?

"Darfur Refugee Children Smile" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

"Darfur Refugee Children Smile" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

Is my trip making a difference?  I see a difference in the smiles of the children. I feel it when I hold a refugees hand.  I witness it when I visit the aid clinics. Perhaps the difference isn’t quantifiable, but it is profoundly apparent to me.

Soon I will be returning home renewed and filled with hope for the New Year, thanks to the brave spirit of the Darfuri people. Experiencing the horrific conditions of their day to day lives brings an indescribable perspective to my own challenges and reminds me that my life will never be full until their suffering is over.

Our humanity is defined by our actions—our ability to show compassion, to empathize with others, and to do something constructive—and opportunities to help others are present each and every day.  For us, remembering the Darfuri people is a measure of our conscience and humanity. For them, it is their hope for survival. That is why I have returned to Chad.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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The Carrot & The Shotgun

Courtesy Flickr user Steve Rhode (http://www.flickr.com/photos/steverhode/)

Courtesy Flickr user Steve Rhode (http://www.flickr.com/photos/steverhode/)

Recently, MAZON welcomed Bob Forney, former President & CEO of the Chicago Stock Exchange & America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America) into our offices to share the successes of his current efforts with The Global Foodbanking Network. Founded in 2006 as a collaboration between Feeding America, Food Banks Canada, Red Argentina de Bancos de Alimentos & Associación Mexicana de Bancos de Alimentos, The Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) establishes & supports food bank networks serving over a billion people worldwide who suffer from hunger and malnourishment. Mr. Forney has personally been involved with GFN programs in Jordan (which, besides hungry Jordanians, has seen an influx of a million Iraqi refugees in recent years), Turkey, Argentina, Canada, South Africa & Israel (these last two funded by MAZON seed money).

Why food bank networks, as opposed to more localized service centers? Mr. Forney offers a real-world example from his experience working with food suppliers. If Kellogg’s has a defective batch of Rice Krispies that tastes fine but doesn’t snap, crackle & pop to perfection, they can’t ship it to grocers, but it costs them money to dispose of it themselves. If Kellogg’s were to donate it to a single organization, that group would need access to a secure warehouse, industrial equipment & staff capable of receiving, storing, sorting & distributing 300 metric tons of rice before it goes bad. Few groups can manage that, and unfortunately the Rice Krispies goes to the dump – but with a food bank network, an infrastructure exists that can meet everyone’s needs across different regions.

The problem with some well-meaning organizations, according to Forney, is their inability to break barriers & collaborate. Nobody’s mission statement requires them to work alone, and ending hunger is one of the few things all people agree on – from everyday citizens, farmers & grocers to large-scale suppliers & politicians – but long-term change can only occur with a committee of the whole.

This is where you, the donor & concerned citizen, come in. You have the carrot & the shotgun to entice and, if necessary, force organizations to work together. Without your donations of time & resources, no organization can function, but with your help, ideas & pressure, organizations can break barriers, work together & end hunger once and for all. Hunger’s greatest ally is distance – the distance between the poor & accessible food, and the distance between organizations looking to save the universe by themselves. That distance separates a billion people, and it’s our responsibility to close the gap and bring everyone back together.

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Filed under Hunger Advocacy, International Relief, Interviews, MAZON Grantees

Seizing the Moment

by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D.
Every year at the High Holy Days, I am reminded of an old family friend whose unflagging optimism always fueled my great admiration.  “How are things going?” I would ask whenever our paths would cross, to which he would make the inevitable reply:  “Today is going to be the best day yet.”  He looked forward to every sunrise; every meal; every conversation.  Even as a young man, it struck me as a courageous and inspirational philosophy.  Seen through the lens of his recurrent illness and financial misfortune, the certainty of his pronouncement taught me a fundamental life’s lesson:  to live fully is to embrace each moment, savoring its sweetness and recognizing its transformative potential.  Put another way, we are not defined by what has already happened or by what tomorrow may bring, but by what we do today.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of renewal and redemption, make the point even more clearly.  Over the course of these holidays, we are neither held hostage to the failures of the past nor burdened by the demands of the future.  Rather, by insisting that we carve out time for serious self-reflection, they enable us to focus squarely on the present, what writer Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now.  In doing so, the High Holy Days force us to confront who we are and how we live and, in the process, to realize that our everyday actions have important implications for our community and the world around us.
It’s no wonder these days are viewed as the most significant of the Jewish calendar; their emphasis on self-awareness and empowerment can spark truly remarkable individual and social change.  This makes them not just Days of Awe, but also:
Days of Hopefulness.  What an extraordinary thing:  to be part of a tradition that tells us we have the ability, and the tools, to help heal a broken world.  Judaism does not relegate the pursuit of social justice to an idyllic hereafter, instead demanding we make it the business of the here-and-now.  As the head of a nonprofit working to end hunger, I know the solutions we seek will not come easy.  But they will come.  And they start with us, today.  They start with us letting our elected representatives know that food insecurity and healthy eating are top priorities in this recession.  And they start with renewed volunteerism to help feed those in need.
Days of Commitment.  The High Holy Days are not a vacation from responsibility; they are, on the contrary, a call to greater accountability.  With each blast of the shofar, we hear the holiday message:  Personal growth is achievable.  Our ideal society is within reach.  But these things take motivation, hard work and a willingness to take the first step.  With commitment, we can, as President Obama has pledged, end childhood hunger in America by 2015.
Days of Opportunity.  As we examine our decisions and take stock of our lives, we have a rare chance to wipe the slate clean, rededicating ourselves to a rich and meaningful existence that integrates personal fulfillment and communal needs.  It’s a new beginning, filled with infinite promise.  As the holiday liturgy says, “Hayom Harat Olam” – Today is the day of the world’s creation.
With busy schedules and hectic lives, we so seldom have a second to breathe.  We run through our days barely noticing their passage, and eagerly anticipating tomorrow.  The New Year exaggerates this tendency, tempting us to look ahead and wonder what the coming months will bring.  But as my friend understood all those years ago, living in the future simply distracts us from what is right before our eyes:  the possibility that we can make this moment the very best one yet.

by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D.
MAZON President

Every year at the High Holy Days, I am reminded of an old family friend whose unflagging optimism always fueled my great admiration.  “How are things going?” I would ask whenever our paths would cross, to which he would make the inevitable reply:  “Today is going to be the best day yet.”  He looked forward to every sunrise; every meal; every conversation.  Even as a young man, it struck me as a courageous and inspirational philosophy.  Seen through the lens of his recurrent illness and financial misfortune, the certainty of his pronouncement taught me a fundamental life’s lesson:  to live fully is to embrace each moment, savoring its sweetness and recognizing its transformative potential.  Put another way, we are not defined by what has already happened or by what tomorrow may bring, but by what we do today.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of renewal and redemption, make the point even more clearly.  Over the course of these holidays, we are neither held hostage to the failures of the past nor burdened by the demands of the future.  Rather, by insisting that we carve out time for serious self-reflection, they enable us to focus squarely on the present, what writer Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now.  In doing so, the High Holy Days force us to confront who we are and how we live and, in the process, to realize that our everyday actions have important implications for our community and the world around us.

It’s no wonder these days are viewed as the most significant of the Jewish calendar; their emphasis on self-awareness and empowerment can spark truly remarkable individual and social change.  This makes them not just Days of Awe, but also:

Days of Hopefulness.  What an extraordinary thing:  to be part of a tradition that tells us we have the ability, and the tools, to help heal a broken world. Judaism does not relegate the pursuit of social justice to an idyllic hereafter, instead demanding we make it the business of the here-and-now.  As the head of a nonprofit working to end hunger, I know the solutions we seek will not come easy.  But they will come.  And they start with us, today.  They start with us letting our elected representatives know that food insecurity and healthy eating are top priorities in this recession.  And they start with renewed volunteerism to help feed those in need.

Days of Commitment.  The High Holy Days are not a vacation from responsibility; they are, on the contrary, a call to greater accountability.  With each blast of the shofar, we hear the holiday message:  Personal growth is achievable.  Our ideal society is within reach.  But these things take motivation, hard work and a willingness to take the first step.  With commitment, we can, as President Obama has pledged, end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

Days of Opportunity.  As we examine our decisions and take stock of our lives, we have a rare chance to wipe the slate clean, rededicating ourselves to a rich and meaningful existence that integrates personal fulfillment and communal needs.  It’s a new beginning, filled with infinite promise.  As the holiday liturgy says, “Hayom Harat Olam” – Today is the day of the world’s creation.

With busy schedules and hectic lives, we so seldom have a second to breathe.  We run through our days barely noticing their passage, and eagerly anticipating tomorrow.  The New Year exaggerates this tendency, tempting us to look ahead and wonder what the coming months will bring.  But as my friend understood all those years ago, living in the future simply distracts us from what is right before our eyes:  the possibility that we can make this moment the very best one yet.

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Go You Forth-Four Years After Hurricane Katrina

Go You Forth

A concert will be held at the Touro Synagogue on Oct 15,2009, followed by an authentic New Orleans Shabbaton on Oct 16-17.  The show will feature Neshama Carlebach and her band, the soulful Green Pastures Baptist Choir,  the one and only Ellis Marsalis (http://www.ellismarsalis.com) and other local musicians and artists. We hope to raise significant funds at this event and also ignite a national consciousness campaign that focuses on the rebuilding of this great American city, devastated four years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

Go You Forth will benefit the St. Bernard Project, run by an incredible and tireless group of people who have dedicated their lives to bringing people back to their homes after the storm.  It may shock you to know that there are still over 15,000 people homeless, living in trailers or in their own condemned properties, sometimes with several other families.  Many of these people have contracted health problems from inhaling the formaldehyde of these FEMA trailers that were intended to be occupied for only 6 months. Through the St. Bernard Project, building one home only costs $12-15,000.   Please click here and sign to be a part of this mission,  no gift is too large or too small.

http://www.stbernardproject.org/v158/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=382&Itemid

Imagine what it means to a family to come home after four years of being displaced .But a home needs sustenance as well and so we’ve also engaged MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger, www.Mazon.org to help in the healing process. This incredible organization creates channels to feed people all over the world, not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Offering desperately needed relief to families still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, MAZON made joint grants totaling over $1 million.  MAZON supports a wide variety of programs geared towards helping hurricane victims and their families pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and acquire the skills they needed to get back on their feet.

MAZON has funded nearly $500,000 to help support Katrina victims through non-profit organizations such as food banks, pantries, and advocacy groups that serve children, adults and seniors.  Examples of specific organizations include the Acadiana Outreach Center, Food Net (for the purchase of food), Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, the Houston Food Bank, and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, among others.

Our goal is to fund the building of 30 houses, knowing that each completed house is a miracle, and to help MAZON continue in their mission to feed the hungry.  Even after October 15th, we hope to continue our efforts until every person in New Orleans has a way to get home; until all those who are wandering can receive the stability, sustenance and peace of mind they need to truly heal from the trauma they’ve endured.   It’s ambitious, but we know we can do it.

Another goal we hope to accomplish with this event: the revitalization of the local Jewish community. You may not know this, but one of the unfortunate effects of the hurricane was to drive out nearly half of the local Jews. Out of the 10,000 Jews who lived in New Orleans prior to 2006, only 6,000 remain.  Spirits are high in this amazing City and it would be our greatest joy to bring back the diverse and beautiful Jewish community of New Orleans through Go You Forth, inspiring singles, couples and families to move to this awesome (and affordable) city.

Friends, we are asking you to become a part of Go You Forth. There are so many ways to help:

  • Come down to New Orleans for the concert, Shabbaton and our special Sunday food delivery project
  • Give a donation to The Saint Bernard Project and Mazon
  • Mobilize your synagogue, school, community center or book group to sponsor the cost of building a house…or even a room.  If you can gather a group of people to build a home, or even just a bathroom or a kitchen, you would be breathing life into a community that so desperately needs our support.
  • Spread the word about our efforts

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

To make a contribution for this event visit www.mazon.org/donate-now. Please indicate that your donation is for “New Orleans.”

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MAZON-Funded SOVA Food Pantry Sees Record Numbers In July

Image courtesy SOVA Community Food & Resource Program

Image courtesy SOVA Community Food & Resource Program

The following was written by Leslie Friedman, MAZON’s Vice President. She can be reached at lfriedman@mazon.org.

My first official blog as Vice President of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is prompted by recent news from Fred, my friend and former colleague at the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program in Los Angeles.  In 2002, when I became SOVA director, our three food pantries were providing free groceries for about 2500 people a month.  A couple of weeks ago, Fred, now SOVA Director of Operations, emailed a simple and jarring message: “8,239 (That’s the preliminary client count for July.  40% above July ‘08.  93% above July ’07).”

The news was staggering.  8,239 people a month are now relying on SOVA for food assistance.  Unbelievable.  I don’t need to know their names to know who they are.  You may not realize it, but regardless of where you live, you know who they are, too.  You see them waiting for the bus as you drive by, or standing in front of you in the grocery store line or clearing the tables at your neighborhood restaurant.  It’s the man who cleans your office after hours, the clerk at the drugstore and the single mother with two teenagers whose car is their home.  It’s the elderly couple who live in the apartment at the end of the hall. They are people who are homeless, people with disabilities, people who followed all the rules and still got sideswiped by life, people who worked their whole lives only to see their savings evaporate and people who fell through the cracks of the “safety net” because they weren’t poor enough.  They are people who don’t know when or whether they will have another meal.

The people behind the statistics are the reason I work to end hunger, not only in my community, but in yours, too.

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