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Students Apply History Lessons

Holocaust remembrance sparks activism to stop Darfur genocide.

When seventh graders from the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation visited the Holocaust Museum a few weeks ago, they came away with a lesson that history repeats itself. What the European Jewish population experienced in 1930s and 1940s is similar to what people of the Darfur region of Sudan are experiencing today.

"Show compassion, take some action" and "Pain rips heart and soul, save Darfur, play your role" were just some of the slogans the students chanted in a rally held at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston on Sunday afternoon.

Student Isabel Hulkower said time is running out for action in Darfur, and so far 400,000 people have died. "It’s like filling up FedEx field four-and-a-half times, and all those people are dead," said classmate Robin Falci.

Callie Schwartz told those gathered that two-and-a-half million innocent people are living in refugee camps. Her classmate Jaclyn Marks added, "That’s more than the number of people who live in Northern Virginia. All those people who go to your school and play sports with you."

"We know time is running out," said Leah McSteen. "We need immediate action from President Bush and the Congress."

"When we hear genocide, we hear it sensitively and uniquely," said Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk. "We can’t just study [the Holocaust] in isolation," he said, as he referred to the painful past of the Jewish community, and how it is relevant to current events taking place in Darfur.

The students took it upon themselves to engage in a call to the U.S. government to do something about the suffering of the people in Darfur. Their parents and Nosanchuk encouraged their activism. "We try to let the kids know to speak up and challenge their textbooks if they have to," said Nosanchuk. "We’re fighting against indifference."

The indifference Nosanchuk is referring to is the lesson of how evil comes to triumph. One of the reasons the Holocaust happened, he said, is because many good people turned their backs on the Jewish suffering and let it happen. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) had the same message for the students.

"Apathy enables evil to persist," said Moran.

SUNDAY’S RALLY ENCOURAGED Moran, because he saw a group of students who were engaged to stop the violence and injustice in Darfur. He discussed with them how they could help make a difference when all of the nations of the world have failed to do so thus far. "Imagine if the children of America knew what was going on" during the Holocaust, said Moran. "Imagine if Anne Frank had somebody she could have written to."

For the students to better understand the Darfur genocide, Moran asked them to imagine a peer who is suffering under the conditions there. "There is a child somewhere in Darfur, maybe not as strong as you, not as educated as you, because they don’t have the resources," said Moran. He said children in Darfur are shaking every day, shaking from hunger and weakness, and shaking from fear that they and those close to them might not live another day. "You need to let them know you care about them," said Moran. Even though those children may look different than students in Reston, or are from a different religious, ethnic and historic background, they are human beings who need friends.

Moran encouraged the students to continue to speak out and remain active on the issue. He told them to use current technology to research the facts. "With empathy, ability to care about someone else, you become the kind of person you were meant to be and you help create the world that it is meant to be," said Moran. He told the students their activism was one of the ways to change the world, and to stop the history from repeating itself. "Every day I want you to do something, read an article or tell your friends about Darfur," said Moran. "We can mobilize this country."

DURING THE QUESTION and answer portion of the rally, students asked Moran about political reasons behind the inaction in Darfur. They also wanted to know if they could personally become involved with their peers, and how. Moran again encouraged them to remain active and engaged. They could become a force that could persuade local, state and national governments to take action. He referred to how genocide in Bosnia was stopped in 1995, after lobby groups – including Jewish community groups – persuaded then-President Bill Clinton, and other governments, to act and stop the war there. In the case of Darfur, Moran said governments of the African Union need to become involved.

Toward the end of the program, Moran summarized his point, "The most compelling message of history is, ‘Never again,’" he said.

Nosanchuk brought the rally to a close, urging the students to continue to wear their green ‘Save Darfur’ wristbands, handed out at Sunday’s event. He also led them in a pledge, in which they promised to look beyond their comfortable lives to help those affected by violence and injustice in other parts of the world.