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Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater Headshot

No Sleep in Congo

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I will sleep tonight, but I shouldn't. I shouldn't because tonight, in the warmth and comfort of my home, in the safety of my lush life, I may dream about the horrible murders and mass atrocities being committed in places like Congo and Darfur. I will sleep tonight, but I shouldn't. I shouldn't because there are babies being stripped from their mothers arms, burned alive, raped and pillaged in pure and utter hatred. Annihilation happens while I sleep tonight. How is this possible? How is it possible that I will close my eyes, rest my body? My soul will be screaming in my sleep, for our souls are connected, mine and the ones in Congo and Darfur. Yet, I will sleep tonight, and awaken tomorrow to my coffee and toast, to my car and my job, to my money and my freedom. Nobody will break down my door, burn my house, kill my children, rape my wife, kill me. Yes, there is pain and suffering in my own neighborhood, there is hunger in my own neighborhood. But, there is not mass genocide, chaos and brutal dictators lavishing at the expense of innocent men, women and children. I will sleep tonight, but I shouldn't.

I just came from seeing The Last Survivor, a documentary about survivors of genocide, from the Holocaust to Rwanda, part of the LA Jewish Film festival and sponsored in Pasadena by my synagogue, PJTC, and Jewish World Watch. Several individual stories woven into one by the brilliance of the directors, a film at once beautiful and hopeful, horrible and maddening. "How long, how long must we sing this song, how long? Sunday bloody Sunday," sings Bono and U2. That is how I felt tonight, crying in the theater, sitting with 50 other human beings, many my congregants, thinking about how I will explain to my children in 30 years what I did to try and stop the genocide in Congo.

Sure, I am on the board of Jewish World Watch. Sure, I am speaking out and writing and preaching and teaching and raising awareness. Sure, sure. But I will sleep tonight while people are being slaughtered. I know that I will and that pains me, even as I know that is how it must be. And, yet, I learned tonight, in this film, from a young man named Justin, who survived genocide and escaped to America, thanks to the amazing work of incredible individuals and organizations that most of us have never heard of, that in his faith, his tribe, they sang a song of hope that said, "Already it is better, thanks God." Just by being alive in this place, after thinking that he wanted to be dead, not be a survivor (which was a running theme of the film) -- from him, to another young woman from Africa to an 84 year old Holocaust survivor, he finds hope and thanks God. It is because of Justin and this film that I will sleep tonight. And tomorrow, I will awake again, please God, and continue to fight for justice, peace and the end of genocide.

My President, Barack Obama, my Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, my Congressman Adam Schiff: you must do something, you must act, you must lead. I know you care, I know you are trying hard. We need more. How many more will die as we deliberate? How long will Sudanese president Bashir walk free and enjoy the privilege of a head of state before we arrest him and try him for the crimes against humanity and genocide for which the ICC has charged him? How long will we ignore the slaughter and promise "never again?" Resolutions, bills, statements, words are not enough. Only action will do if we are to live, and sleep, after Rwanda, Darfur and Congo. 5.4 million souls exterminated in Congo alone. Sleep with these thoughts, or don't sleep as much, but please do more, scream louder, act bolder, make it truly "already better." For now, we hope, for now, we hope.

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