Rabbi Harold Schulweis rallies help for the oppressed abroad
He has inspired thousands to take action against inhumanity in the 3-1/2 years since founding Jewish World Watch.
In eastern Chad, 14,000 children in the Oure Cassoni refugee camp this month will receive backpacks filled with shoes, school supplies, soap, and mosquito nets.Skip to next paragraph
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Hundreds of miles south, in the Iridimi camp that is home to Sudanese refugees, 15,000 solar cookers help prevent the incidence of rape among women who venture out to collect wood for cooking.
And three small radio stations in rural Chadian villages air "She Speaks, She Listens," a weekly broadcast discussing problems of gender-based violence.
As of this month, the group has sent $3 million in aid to the nearly 230,000 refugees fleeing violence at the hands of the janjaweed militias in Darfur. The organization Schulweis founded almost four years ago now boasts 250,000 members (belonging to 56 Jewish synagogues in southern California that have joined JWW) – and is supported coast to coast by churches; university groups; and civic, professional, and grass-roots organizations.
Schulweis, rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue in Encino, Calif., was already one of the best-known pulpit rabbis in America and the author of many books when, in 2004, he challenged his own congregation to stop merely observing acts of global inhumanity – Darfur, Rwanda, Srebrenica – and instead to rise up, speak out, and deliver immediate, practical care.
Motivated by the Holocaust
The seeds of activism were planted early, while Schulweis was growing up in the Bronx with immigrant parents who'd fled Nazi Germany. As episodes of genocide and ethnic cleansing have repeated themselves over the decades, Schulweis decided to make his formal stand.
"Don't I remember what Jews preached and taught and heard: 'Where are the nations of the world?' " he says, sitting in his library at his hilltop Encino home.
"Where are the churches of the world? Where are the priests, pastors, the bishops, and the pope?" he asks. "And will my children and grandchildren ask of me, 'Where was the synagogue, where were the rabbis, and where were you during Rwanda when genocide took place in 1994?' "
By all accounts, those ideas – which he crystallized in his founding speech for JWW – galvanized his local congregation, spreading to other synagogues and then to Christian churches until in a matter of months a broad structure was in place that has continued to grow.
Schulweis remains the guiding hand. That means making sure his grass-roots foreign-aid programs are not temporary or patchwork. He has seen to it that they are sustained by speakers bureaus peopled with volunteers aged 13 to 83. The speakers have reached 30,000 young people in public, private, and parochial schools about the plights of Darfur and other global trouble spots: political detainees in Thailand, refugees in Somalia, border violence in Nepal/Bhutan and Pakistan/India.