With Yom Hashoah approaching, all eyes are on Darfur

To a Bosnian, Rwandan or, now, a Darfurian, the Holocaust survivor’s mantra of “Never Again” rings a bit hollow.

But a number of Bay Area activists, many of them Jews, are hoping to change that.

Over the past several years, the people of Darfur, in the west of Sudan, have been systematically dispossessed of their land and slaughtered by the nation’s government and its ally, a band of murderous cavalrymen known as the Janjaweed. Here in the United States, April is informally recognized as genocide awareness month (Yom Hashoah, of course, usually falls in April) and a full slate of events are on tap locally and nationwide to highlight the plight of the Darfurians — and change it.

A pair of Darfur-related events at Bay Area synagogues lead up to an April 30 event on the Golden Gate Bridge in which thousands of demonstrators will link hands in a symbol of solidarity, followed by a rally at Crissy Field and a concert at Congregation Emanu-El.

“There is a very broad awareness [of Darfur] within the Bay Area, state and nation and the people standing on the bridge are basically saying they will not be bystanders to genocide,” said Tim Nonn, the founder of Dear Sudan, a national movement, and the organizer of the bridge event.

The event is free, though all donations or T-shirt purchases go directly to humanitarian relief provided by the American Jewish World Service and Church World Service.

On Thursday, April 6 at 7 p.m., the local kickoff event for the nationwide “Million Voices for Darfur Campaign” will be held at Congregation Emanu-El with speeches, a fund-raiser and concert (a four-time Grammy award-winner will be there, but organizers won’t yet say who).

On Sunday, April 23 at 3 p.m., Oakland’s Temple Sinai will host a panel discussion on Sudan featuring photographer Mark Brecke (who took the shot illustrating this article); Canadian human rights activist Georgette Gagnon; Elvir Camdzic, a Bosnian genocide survivor and co-founder of the Bay Area Darfur Coalition; and Jok Maduk Jok, a professor at Loyola Marymount University and native of southern Sudan who will explain in depth the recent genocidal civil war in that region which led to more than 2 million deaths.

“We don’t want people to go away just knowing more, we want them to be able to do things,” said event organizer Deena Levine, who plans to stock the event with a mass of genocide-related resources.

Nonn and Levine stress that Darfur activism isn’t just a feel-good activity, it’s actually getting things done. Student groups at the University of California have successfully lobbied the U.C. Regents to divest from Sudan and companies that profit from business with the Sudanese government. Interfaith activist groups have spurred President Bush to adopt a more proactive approach to saving Darfurian lives.

“There’s a groundswell in the movement,” said Levine. “But more can be done.”

For more information on all three events, please visit www.dearsudan.org/bayareaupdate.htm. For the Emanu-El event call (415) 383-4524. For the Temple Sinai event call (925) 451-3415. To sign up for the April 30 demonstration on the Golden Gate Bridge, visit www.dearsudan.org/april30.htm

or call (707) 799-1056.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.