In just a few hours our small group representing Jewish World Watch leaves for the Eastern Congo. Every day for the last week, my sisters each call me and ask me if I feel that going to the Congo is really necessary. My parents and my in-laws ask me on a daily basis if there is anything they could say to persuade me to cancel the trip. Of course, my husband and children have demonstrated great respect for my decision to go, but I know how anxious they are for the trip to be over and for me to be safely back home. I am definitely apprehensive; how could I not be! Actually, this is not a trip that I really want to take. Even as an “adventure”, this trip falls short. (Would a trip in 1940 to a concentration camp in Poland or Germany be considered an adventure?) Rather, this is a trip of duty. This is a trip that tests the very principle on which Jewish World Watch was formed; and, for me, this is a trip that tests my commitment to that principle.
Two years ago when I traveled (with Rachel Andres, Director of the JWW Solar Cooker Project and Tzivia Schwartz Getzug, JWW Executive Director) to the Darfuri refugee camps in Chad, I did not know what to expect. In fact, in the midst of that trip, there were several occasions when privately I asked myself if I would have traveled to the refugee camps had I known of the dangers and of the depths of sadness and tragedy we would be forced to confront head on? Once was when we were being whisked from the UN compound in Abeche, Chad, to a “safer place” in the midst of a failed coup attempt. Another occasion was when we sat for hours inside a sweltering grounded airplane on some God forsaken air strip waiting for a local warlord and his entourage to arrive (they ultimately sauntered on board with their bare chests, gold chains, red berets and fully loaded assault rifles – so much for TSA rules in Chad!). And, of course I asked myself this question when we sat for hours with women in the camps listening to the horrific tales of brutality, torture and death. I never had to answer that question…until now.
I know about the dangers in Eastern Congo. I know about the lawlessness and about the militias. I know about the violence, killings and massive rapes. While we have taken all precautions to ensure our safety, the facts are inescapable. In four days, we are going into an area that has been at the epicenter of the murder of almost 6 million people over the last several years and the locale of hundreds of thousands of devastating rapes. This trip will be very difficult. It will be very dangerous. It will be very sad. But, if Jewish World Watch as an organization, and if I, as an individual, intend on mobilizing against these horrors with the greatest possible effectiveness, as our JWW mission requires that we do, we have no choice. We must go and witness Congo first hand. We must be willing to bear witness. We must be willing to listen to the voices of the women who have suffered. We must be willing to look into the eyes of the children who have been orphaned. We must be willing to cry with those who were forced to watch as their children were killed and we must be willing to embrace those whose lives have been shattered by unspeakable acts.
My husband’s parents are survivors of the Holocaust. I have spoken with hundreds of survivors in my life. One of the paramount lessons I have learned from these survivors, is that their greatest sadness and despair came from their complete and total sense of aloneness; a sense that they had been abandoned by the entire world who kept silent, thereby allowing 6 million Jewish souls to be burned, starved, shot, and buried alive.
There is no doubt that I am apprehensive as we ready ourselves to leave for Congo. But, I also feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to be able to do what I am doing. I know that through this trip we will help give birth to our JWW “Congo Now!” campaign, which will educate and mobilize tens of thousands of people to decry the horrors in Congo, just as we continue to successfully educateand activate the community to decry the genocide in Darfur. I know that through this trip we will find incredible projects to fund and organizations to support, which will alleviate the suffering of the victims of this horrible debacle. I am moved by what I learned from survivors of the Holocaust and dedicate this trip to the memory of the 6 million who died alone, in a silent world where far too few were watching. How blessed are we, that we have the awareness and the capacity to do what we are about to do.