Op-Ed Columns Opinion

A Call to Action

The Yazidis of Northern Iraq are suffering unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the Islamic State. Will American Jewish communities help?

On Tisha b’Av, Jews around the world will mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and remember other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. As a people, our collective experiences and belief that it is mitzvah to help repair the ills of the world, has made us especially sensitive to the suffering of others.

With that in mind, this Tisha b’Av — which begins this year on the evening of Saturday, August 13 — let us all bear witness to the current tragedy befalling the Yazidi people of Northern Iraq at the hands of ISIS. Like the Jewish people, their history has been one of persecution and tragedy because of their faith.

The Yazidis are a small, peaceful, monotheistic religious group that lives primarily in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. In August 2014, ISIS overran their communities in a premeditated assault with the purpose of destroying their existence. While tens of thousands fled, thousands were captured and murdered. Men were separated from the women and children, and executed in mass graves. Boys as young as four years old were sent to ISIS training camps to indoctrinate them into becoming suicide bombers. Between 5,200-7,000 women and children were kidnapped, brutalized, raped, and sold as sex slaves in a calculated and well organized system of slavery. Approximately 2,500 of the captives have escaped or have been rescued, but many lack adequate trauma intervention and basic services.

According to the United Nations, the Islamic State continues to subject approximately 3,500 Yazidi women and girls as young as eight years old to organized rape, sexual assault, forced miscarriages and abortions, forced marriages, forced conversions, sexual slavery, trafficking, torture and brutal abuse. Overall, approximately 500,000 Yazidis have been displaced, leaving Yazidi survivors in need of supplies, medical assistance, trauma counseling, and protection.  The United States Holocaust Museum issued a report in November 2015 concluding that genocide has and is taking place. Declarations of genocide by the European Union, United States, and the United Nations followed in the first half of 2016.

It is no wonder that the Yazidi community looked to the State of Israel and the Jewish people as an example and resource for how to survive the current genocide. One of the first NGOs to respond to the crisis was IsraAid, which later expanded its aid program with grants from the American Jewish Committee. The Jewish community of Winnipeg, Canada refused to be silent and organized their own interfaith effort to rescue Yazidi families. While most major news outlets in the United States relayed the atrocities as they unfolded, and continued to report on the horrific events throughout the past two years, little action in general, and even more disturbing, almost no action by Jewish organizations in the United States has taken place in order to address the Yazidis in crisis.

Let our communities be some of the first to lead the call to action. If not us, who? Who is more sensitive to and affected by such atrocities than the Jewish people? If not now, when? We are all too aware of what happens when people and nations drag their feet or look the other way. For 70 years, the Jewish people have been the standard bearers for the mantra “Never Again”; that genocide must be stopped no matter the people being affected. Well, “Never Again” is now.

Susan Rosenstein is a Connecticut educator and director of the Connecticut Coalition for Yazidi Relief, a grassroots effort to bring attention and aid to those impacted by the Yazidi genocide (www.facebook.com/ctcoalitionforyazidirelief).

Susan Rosenstein will discuss the Yazidi genocide and how the community can help at The Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford, on Sunday, August 14, following Tisha b’Av mincha services at 1:30 pm.


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