Tuesday, April 21, 2009

As Exhaustion Sets In….

Tonight, I am exhausted. Physically, our days have been going from 7 a.m. until past midnight every night with no breaks, which is exhausting. Emotionally, I have endured listening to vile hate speech and people blaming Zionism for all the ills of the world, which is exhausting. Intellectually, I have listened to endless hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty, which is exhausting. But even though I am exhausted, I am still invigorated at the prospect of using these next few days to make a difference, to reach out, to show the world that there are still people at this conference who care about fighting racism, xenophobia and intolerance. We hope to show the world that groups from different parts of the world with different beliefs can still listen to each other and find common ground. After everything that has gone on, it is hard to be optimistic but we do have glimmers of hope.

So, at the conclusion of this Yom Ha’Shoah (the Holocaust Day of Remembrance), it is important to remember that we can not become too exhausted, too apathetic, too indifferent to care about those who are killed around the world because of their race, their religion, their gender or their sexuality. Professor Irwin Cotler has given several rousing speeches this week about the evils of genocide, reminding us that at the end of WWII the world promised “Never Again” yet there have been multiple instances of genocide in recent memory. We just passed the 15th anniversary of the start of the genocide in Rwanda where 1 million people were killed in 100 days. We are in the sixth year of the genocide in Darfur. While the world said “Never Again”, genocide has happened again and again. While the world said “Never Again”, genocide continues to happen as this conference goes on.

There are human rights violations happening today, all over the world. And that is exhausting. It is easy to shut down and not listen to the evils of the world. It is easy to protect ourselves in a bubble and ignore the cries for help. But a long time ago, the world said “Never Again”. “Never Again” was more than just words, it was a promise that the citizens of the world made to each other. If we allow ourselves to become exhausted, if we allow ourselves to become indifferent, if we allow ourselves to become apathetic then do we have the right to stand up once a year and cry for the six million Jews and five million other human beings that were slaughtered by the Nazis? Do we have the right to yell about anti-Semitism or gender discrimination or homophobia or whatever our particular cause is when we are too exhausted to care about the evils that are being enacted on others?

The Talmud (Jewish teachings) says, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” Trust me when I say that no one here is naïve enough to believe that we can solve racism, intolerance, xenophobia or – the evil of all evils – genocide. But however exhausted we are, we are not absolved from our duty to humanity to do what we can. So, for the next few days, I promise to do all I can. I ask you to do the same.

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