By Sara Schatz and Tzophia Stepansky, Co-Presidents of the Genocide Awareness Club
A few weeks ago, at the Wilf club fair, a few people came over to our club’s table asking questions such as, “Okay, so we’re aware there’s a genocide. What now?”
As painful as the question is, we get it. What exactly is GAC? And why are we here?
Here’s our response — our names are Tzophia and Sara, and we’re two Jews from the tri-state area who want to bring people out of their bubbles to learn about the crimes against humanity happening around the world.
There is a profound quote from Rav Kook: “It is not [the Jewish people’s] terrible suffering that is the source of its longing for redemption, but rather its striving to do good to mankind, for this is the essence of its soul.” During this time of year in particular, we face a plethora of introspection. We have recently embarked on the month of Tishrei, a time of dialectical emotions: Rosh Hashana, when we reflect on renewing our lives; Yom Kippur, when we pinpoint the details to better our lives; Sukkot, when we find happiness in our lives. This also happens on a national front — lives are lost, gained, and renewed throughout the year around the world. In light of this, we ask ourselves many questions, including the most pressing: how is our lot determined in life? And when we look at the news, this question is unfortunately raised to a much higher level — why do some people suffer, while others succeed? How is it fair?
As we’ve witnessed from the times of Iyov (Job) until today, we know that this question can never be adequately answered. However, in place of this, we can ask ourselves yet another question — how can we implement change to prevent such atrocities from ever taking place again?
One of the most powerful keys to change is looking around ourselves, outside of our four cubits, and seeing people unlike us, but who were brought to the world just like us. Unfortunately, as Jews, we have been victim to many iniquities (most recently, the attack in Halle, Germany) and can thus truly comprehend how unjust things are. Therefore, as a community, we have the power to wake up and show empathy to the inhumanities facing others. As Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller famously uttered, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
It is essential for us to care about human life, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or gender. There is a sugya in Mesechet Gittin that states the following: “We provide for the gentiles’ poor with Israel’s poor, we visit gentiles’ sick with Israel’s sick, and we bury the gentiles’ dead with Israel’s dead, due to the ways of peace.” The Rambam adds these two beautiful pesukim: “Hashem is good with all and he is merciful upon all of his works” (Tehillim 145:9), and “And its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” (Mishlei 3:17).
A life is a life, created by G-d, and has inherent worth. As a world, we should create a unified community that cares about those around them, to ensure safety for all, because everyone deserves that.
During World War II, many people, especially in America, said they had no idea what was happening to the Jews at that time. Perhaps, some of us are falling victim to those same behaviors. During World War II, those who weren’t directly experiencing the tragedies of the Holocaust were unaware of the events going on, despite how extreme they were. It’s easy to repeat history when we’re not being aware of what’s going on in the world, especially if it doesn’t directly affect us. But we shouldn’t be doomed to repeat the errors of the past. We should hold high standards and want to change. The GAC is here to bring an awareness to the Yeshiva University student body of the suffering that affects millions of people around the world daily. And we do this in three ways: 1. Learning more. 2. Talking about it with others. 3. Finding easy ways to make a change.
Let’s say “never again,” together.
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- “The Ethical Foundations of Rav Kook’s Nationalist Views,” trans. B. Caspar and R. Ziegler, Alei Etzion 2 (5755), 19
- Niemöller, Martin. “First They Came for the Socialists” (1946)
- Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Melachim u’Milchamot 10:12