PROGRAM Speaker: Stand up for social justice
As Jewish people, 'We have an obligation not to remain silent,' she said.
YOUNGSTOWN -- In the past two years, an estimated 300,000 people have died in Darfur, Sudan -- victims of starvation, disease and government-backed violence.
A speaker in Youngstown said Sunday we are all to blame.
Ruth Messinger, executive director of American Jewish World Service, shared those thoughts when she visited Youngstown as a featured speaker for "350 Years of Jewish Life in America: Past, Present and Future."
The program, at the Butler Museum of American Art, drew a crowd of about 300. It was sponsored by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, Youngstown State University's Holocaust Studies Program and other area Jewish groups and organizations.
It balanced history, music, achievement and social activism, a mix that reflects the contributions of the Jewish community in America as well as Youngstown, said Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Similar to Rwanda
Messinger told the group that the situation in Darfur is "Rwanda in slow motion," referring to the three-month period in 1994 when an estimated 800,000 people were killed in that African nation.
"We have an obligation not to remain silent," Messinger said. "As Jewish people, we have always been concerned about social justice. This is still happening, and it is getting worse every day."
American Jewish World Service, based in New York, is a nonprofit organization that works to build Jewish life in Russia and the Ukraine and deals with issues of poverty, hunger and disease around the world.
Messinger, who served for 12 years on the New York City Council, told the group that President Bush has pledged to work to end the suffering in Darfar, and her group is pushing for economic sanctions against the Sudanese government.
"We are all responsible," she said.
The program also recognized Saul Friedman, professor in Judaic and Holocaust studies in Youngstown State University's history department. Friedman is retiring in May after more than 30 years at YSU. He is chairman of the YSU Judaic and Holocaust Studies Committee and is "an absolute icon in our community," Burdman said.
"He's not just our conscience," she said. "He's our teacher."
The committee awarded the Joseph Hill Award to Danielle Botti, a YSU senior who will study next year at Haifa University in Israel. The award is named for the former leader of the Youngstown Zionist District and honors an outstanding student in Jewish studies at YSU.
The two-hour program featured a photo display of Jewish life in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, including a bowling league from the 1950s; the founding of Schwebel's baking company and Arby's; and choirs and clubs from decades past. The exhibit, which moves to the Jewish Community Center on Gypsy Lane starting today, is a slice of local Jewish life.
Peter Geffen, executive director of The Center for Jewish History in New York, encouraged the group to continue to look through "your personal attics and basements" for treasures that may illuminate Jewish life in America to future generations.