Keep on a walkin’, keep on a talkin’ – reflections on fighting genocide in the holiday season

Cross-posted on’s Stop Genocide blog.

I’ve been particularly excited about the holidays this year – I’m looking forward to my few days off later this week and around New Year’s Eve, and just being able to put my feet up and enjoy my mother-in-law’s cooking!

Yet, as my husband and I lit the Hanukkah candles in our window last night Michelle’s recent post with the story of a candle lighting so far away from my experience, but not so far away in time, kept haunting me.  Then, this morning I had the joyful experience of reading a piece in the Washington Post’s OnFaith section by one of my heroes, Reverend Gloria White-Hammond, MD, the chairwoman of the Save Darfur Coalition’s board.  Reading this gave me much-needed pre-New Year’s inspiration to keep on walkin’ and keep on talkin’ Darfur.  I hope you’ll get similar inspiration from the piece – and from the stories below of holiday celebrations during times of crisis.

For anti-genocide activists whose activism is fueled by our faith, this is a season to reflect on our commitment to “save Darfur” and reignite our faith that our collective efforts will lead to peace and security in Sudan.

Reigniting that faith could be a tall order. Six years into the tragedy, Darfur continues to fester with ongoing killing, rape, destruction and displacement in a nation at war with itself. Sudan is a complex and, tragically, chronic crisis. It is in the face of such complexities that we must summon our most fervent belief that even situations as severely fractured as Sudan can be made whole.

Our faith is not blind, however. Our confidence in the power of persistent faith is inspired by stories from our sacred texts and informed by accounts in our history books.

The power of activism energized by faith is also reflected in the subsequent success of contemporary social movements.

Such faith enabled civil rights workers in America to hold fast to the vision of the Hebrew prophet, Amos, for a day when “justice [would] roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Activists could only imagine the immense changes wrought in America because of their sacrifices–changes that resulted in the election of the first African American president fifty years later.

February 2009 will usher in Darfur’s seventh year of genocide. In the Jewish tradition, the seventh year is the year of jubilee when captives are set free and land is returned to its original owner. We are wise enough to know that the battle to end genocide follows no set timetable; but we are “faith-fueled” enough to believe that jubilee for Darfur and all victims of genocide is well on its way. We resonate to a tune sung by slaves in the 19th century, with words sung by freedom fighters in the 20th century, as we declare at the onset of the 21st century:

“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…
I’m gonna keep on a walkin’, keep on a talkin’, walkin’ up the freedom trail.”

Now, once you’ve signed a postcard, voted for Obama to make ending genocide a priority, take a moment to read about the holidays

Elma Dizdar – Eid during the siege of Sarajevo

It was April 6, 1992, Eid for the Muslims of Bosnia, when the Yugoslav army struck. The Serbian soldiers had been taking up position on the hills surrounding Sarajevo since winter and we sensed that something out of the ordinary was taking place. However, we never really anticipated a war. Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic society but we had never been conscious of our ethnic distinctiveness. Many of my friends were Serbs and Croats with whom I had grown up, and none of us believed that we would fight each other.

Hanukkah during the Holocaust

Michelle recently posted this story of Hanukkah in the concentration camp of Bergen Belsen.
Instead, a wooden clog, the shoe of one of the inmates, became a hanukkiah; strings pulled from a concentration camp uniform, a wick; and the black camp shoe polish, pure oil.
Not far from the heaps of the bodies, the living skeletons assembled to participate in the kindling of Hanukkah lights.

And finally, read this uplifting story of a Southern Sudanese Christmas celebration in Minnesota:

“Christmas is a time when all the people of south Sudan forgive themselves,” said Khamis Dhien, one of the party’s organizers, who fled Sudan in 1993 after his name appeared on a list of college students targeted for arrest or worse. His route to Rochester, where he works at the Crenlo truck-cab fabrication plant, wove through Zimbabwe and Kenya before he immigrated to Fargo, N.D. and finally Rochester in 1995.
In south Sudan, the Christmas holiday extends from December 23 to January 3, during which time everyone returns to their home village from wherever they live to reconnect with family and friends. Work in the fields and in the cities comes to a standstill as people make the rounds from house to house in their home village to visit with neighbors, to share news, and to party.

While you’re reading, consider listening to this short playlist of inspirational holiday songs.  I won’t say these express my exact taste in music (and I take issue with some of the lyrics of “Do they know it’s Christmas”) … but maybe they’ll put enough bounce in your step to keep you walkin’ and talkin’ (and possibly singin’) against genocide in 2009!

Finally, if you’re still looking for last-nights-of-Hanukkah or just-after-Christmas gifts, check out my gift guide, Michelle’s suggestions, or the various guides at the Fair Trade Blog.

Photo of the menorah from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Southern Sudanese celebrating Christmas from


About Martha Heinemann Bixby

Advocacy. Politics. Life. Martha Heinemann Bixby.
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