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Purim: Global Human Rights and Genocide

Purim reminds us that the evils of persecution and genocide are ever-present threats to humanity. Haman accuses the Jews of being a people scattered and dispersed who scorn the king’s law and obey their own laws (Esther 3:8-11). As a people who celebrate unique customs and have historically been shunned from the rest of society, the Jews have known a unique vulnerability to persecution.

However, as the end of the book of Esther, in which the Jews kill 75,000 Persians while defending themselves, shows us, we not only have a responsibility in preventing others from oppressing us, but we must also prevent anyone from experiencing oppression. As Abraham Joshua Heschel says: “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Today, thousands of people around the world are persecuted because of differences in race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. 

  • We are currently facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II with over 19 million refugees and 60 million poeple displaced wordwide
  • In 2014, it was estimated that 35.8 million people were subject to modern slavery around the world.
  • UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 are currently being exploited in over thirty armed conflicts worldwide.

Genocide is occuring worldwide, with major conflict areas including Sudan, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan. 

  • Sudan - The war in Darfur began in 2003 and has resulted in mass destruction of villages and killings of civilians. The Sudanese governemnt continues to commit crimes against humanity on its own civilians. The UN estimates about 400,000 people have died in Darfur since the start of the current conflict in 2003.
  • Syria - Beginnig in early 2011, the Syrian crisis has caused 220,000 deaths and has been the largest source of diplacement of any conflict with 4 million refugees. 
  • Myanmar - 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship in Burma as a result of thier religious beliefs. In 2012, 140,000 Rohigya Muslims hwereforcibly displaced from their homes and 100,000 fled the country.
  • South Sudan - Following independence in 2011, fighting between rebel groups and the government escalated to civil war in 2013. Over 10,000 people have been killed in fighting since the end of 2013, 50,000 children are at risk of death due to starvation and 1.1 million people have been displaced due to the conflict. 

Our Jewish values of upholding the dignity of humanity compel us to feel personally responsible for those experiencing oppression worldwide. In honor of Purim, let us take the opportunity to learn about persecution and human rights violations and work towards peaceful solutions to these conflicts.