Commemoration Rwandan Genocide

Speech 20th Commemoration Rwandan Genocide 
9th of March 2014 
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 

Almost 50 years ago, in March 1965, two modern-day prophets met and marched in Selma, Alabama in the Civil Rights movement: Dr Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Both were latter-day prophets who had experienced the consequences of genocide and racism in their own lives: the rabbi had fled Nazi Germany and the pastor rose to challenge the colour bar. 

I would like to share some of their timeless wisdom: “Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason” (Heschel). “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” (King) 

Their words ring as true today as they did 50 years ago. The Torah states ‘tzedek tzedek tirdof’ – ‘justice, justice you shall pursue’. We are gathered here today to commemorate the 20th year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: a great failure on part of humankind, where mere decades after the ‘Never Again’ of Auschwitz, the Rwandan people suffered one of the most debilitating genocides known in the modern age. 

We, members of the Jewish community of Leeds, stand in solidarity with the Rwandan community of Leeds to mourn the dead and honour their memory: ‘zichronam livracha’ – may their memory be a blessing. The words of the wise speak truths and it behooves us to listen. ‘Injustice anyware is a threat to justice everywhere’, Dr King said. ‘That indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.’ 

Let us not be indifferent to the suffering of others. Let us both humanise the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable in the stark glare of history, wherever the divine image of man is desecrated. And let us rebuild the vision of justice that the Hebrew Bible inspires us with. For love, humanity and brotherhood, everywhere and always.


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