The details in the following story are not necessarily true, but for all I know, they might be. Last names have been left out to protect the ???
The sky was darkening outside as Günter dragged the last bite of his porterhouse steak across his sauce belle aurore laden plate. Shoving it into one corner of his mouth, he looked at his watch and exclaimed, “My, we’ve been here for two hours Khaliq, and I have an urgent meeting back at the UN soon. It’s been great having this open dialogue and frank discussion about the pressing situation in Darfur, but I need to get back to the office. I think we have some sanctions against Israel on the slate, and I really can’t miss those no matter how much I would like to stay for another round of Amuse Bouche.”
Khaliq sighed in agreement as he laid his U.N. American Express card on the bill and signed off a hefty tip. “But Günter, I think we agreed that we need a united front here. We can’t just let the Darfur genocide continue!” By now Khaliq had worked himself to a religious zeal, pumping the air with his fists as he continued with his tirade, oblivious to the little pieces of Amuse Bouche flying from his mouth. “Innocent people are being killed every day! Villages burned, crops razed! How long can we sit by and do nothing?!” Günter, used to these frequent outbursts, tried to hurry him along, “So what should we say when we get back there?” Khaliq looked at him with the look he usually reserved for his fourth wife, and began speaking to Günter as if he was a second grader trying to grasp 14×2=28. “We will tell them that the coming weeks and months will be a CRUCIAL period in the quest for peace in Darfur!” With that, the two men strode out of Peter Luger Steakhouse into their waiting limos and sped back to the UN Headquarters at First Avenue and 42nd Street.
Sure enough, a few weeks later, on July 11th, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the UN, read passionately from a speech prepared for him by his favorite speechwriter, Günter. “The coming weeks and months will be a CRUCIAL period in the quest for peace in Darfur! The people of Darfur have suffered too long, and the world can no longer accept the cycle of violence perpetrated there.” Unfortunately for the people of Darfur, this was not the first time that claim has been made. In July of 04’, three years earlier, a UN official told the Washington Post that “the next few months will be a moment of truth for Sudan.” Kofi Annan, the scandal-riddled previous Secretary General of the UN, declared on the New York Times op-ed page in April 2005, “Time is running out for the people of Sudan.” Seventeen months later, he informed the U.N. Security Council that, “the tragedy in Darfur has reached a critical moment.”
It seems like Darfur has undergone an enormous amount of crucial times, moments of truth, and points of no return. At first there seemed to be some successes. Leaders in every civilized country, including our own, decried the deplorable debacle, devastation, and dissolution in Darfur. The UN drafted a resolution to send in a peacekeeping army, and the Darfuri rebel groups agreed to sit down to the negotiating table. Yet, somehow, nothing has been done. The murder, rape, and pillage continue, and, even more alarmingly, Chadian Arabs have recently begun crossing the border into Darfur to settle land once owned by African tribesmen. This latest development guarantees that we will have even more bloodshed in the coming years. So how is it that the world has been aware of this situation, been aware of the urgency of dealing with it, yet has done nothing about it?
Contemplating this question is a real eye-opener. The answer is that meaningful discussion, sincere desires, and impassioned ambition often placates our conscience to the point where we don’t need to do anything. Almost everyone has some area of their life in which they desperately want to change. They tell themselves, “That’s it, no more!” or “Now it’s a crucial moment, I really need to change this,” or, “The next few months will be a real moment of truth!” Yet somehow many crucial moments go by, moments of truth pass, and nothing changes. This is because telling ourselves what we want to do, and the many reasons we want to do it, takes the place of doing it. We use up our energy in the dialogue, and feel like we did something.
The solution is not “going back to the drawing board” or “drafting resolutions.” It is not going to be found in meaningful dialogue, frank discussion, or open discourse. It is going to be found in meaningful ACTION!! When we feel that revving of the conscience, that inspiration for change, we need to put it to use right away, and not let it wither away with the ravages of time.
We talk about going on diets (spending billions on diet products and literature), or we discuss the fact that we really need to be getting to synagogue more often. We contemplate how crucial it would be to start volunteering once a week for some charitable organization, and focus on how we need to spend less time in front of our TV’s and the WWW and more with our families. However, as a nation, we keep getting heavier, synagogue attendance is dropping, volunteerism is down for the fourth consecutive year, and more and more hours are spent viewing TV (over 250 billion a year in the US – that’s 250,000,000,000 hours that could have been spent with the family).
It’s time for the Action Revolution! No more impassioned feelings, but resolute performance. Imagine if; the overeater started snacking on vegetables twice a day, or stopped eating after 9PM, or if the limited synagogue attendee started going to synagogue once more a month. What would happen if the TV and internet devotee made Tuesday nights a no-TV-or-internet night. That would be progress. As the High Holidays come around the bend, and we begin to think of our desired changes for the coming year, let’s learn from the UN, and commit to an Action Revolution instead of Ruinous Resolutions.
Leiby Burnham, LMSW, is a rabbi, psychotherapist, and writer. He lives in Detroit with his wife, an ICU nurse, who is on strict orders to “leave her patients at work” and their two daughters, Orah and Shifra. Rabbi Burnham works for the Jean and Theodore Weiss Partners in Torah program of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, where he does community outreach, and runs a Jewish educational programs at University of Michigan, Wayne State, and Oakland University. He taught learning-disabled high school students for eight years in NYC, while receiving Rabbinical training at Shor Yoshuv Institute, and obtaining his Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.