With Will The Kids Will Be

THE HOUR

By Leonard Fein

Published May 05, 2006, issue of May 19, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It was the kids that got to me. (The kids, and George Clooney’s father.) I hadn’t planned to write about Darfur this week, or even to mention it. But this is not about Darfur; it’s about the kids.

I don’t know the numbers, but they were plainly the vast majority of those who came to Washington on Sunday to join in the rally to stop the genocide in Darfur. Every time the C-Span camera panned the crowd, it was as if this rally was just for high school and college students. And maybe, just maybe, someone with power was watching, was listening, and the genocide will be stopped. (That was what Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s dad, himself a journalist, eloquently said: I’m an old timer, and I have seen a lot. We didn’t stop the Holocaust, and we didn’t stop Cambodia and we didn’t stop Rwanda. But this one we can stop. We really can.)

I know a little bit about such rallies. Rep. Tom Lantos, when it was his turn to speak at the Darfur rally, observed that there hadn’t been any rallies during the time of the Holocaust. Lantos was wrong; there had been at least one rally.

It was at new York City’s Madison Square Garden, on March 1, 1943 — and I know about it because I was there, along with 70,000 people, many of them gathered on the sidewalks and streets outside, listening to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise over loudspeakers. I was a kid, way younger than those on the Mall this past Sunday, but I remember it still. And I was at Madison Square Garden again, four years later, at a rally for a Jewish state, addressed by (among many, too many others) Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and Chaim Weizmann, who was to become Israel’s first president.

I missed some the big ones as an adult. But I remember when the Jews of Boston gathered on the Boston Common on June 5, 1967, to speak on Israel’s behalf, not knowing that the very next day would see the onset of the Six Day War, still fearful to the point of near-panic that the Arab states would overwhelm Israel as they had promised. And I was very proudly there on the Mall in 1987 at the rally for Soviet Jewry — the largest rally ever convened by American Jews, with some 250,000 people in attendance.

Kids — young people — remember such events. Some are changed by them, become lifelong drum majors for justice. I’ve no doubt of that. But here, I want to call attention to the fact that these young people already have become drum majors for justice.

A rally, after all, is not just a bunch of speakers on one side and a larger or smaller audience on the other; a rally is its participants. A lighthouse without ships is pointless; a rally without people, lots of people, is an embarrassment.

While I have no idea what of all the afternoon’s rhetoric will remain in the memory of those who were there — I remember not a word that was spoken at the rallies I attended as a youngster — I know quite precisely what I will remember of the Darfur rally.

I will remember who was there, not up on the platform but on the grass below: The kids who, we’re told, don’t read newspapers; the kids who, we’re told, are heirs to the sensibility of the “me” generation; the kids who, we’re told, are busy at frat parties and raves, who see college as a vocational school and spend their free time instant messaging.

Not last Sunday. Not the many thousands of them who are alive, as alive as any of us old-timers, to the atrocity that is going on in Darfur. Joey Cheek, the Olympic gold medalist in speed skating and the final speaker at the Darfur rally, summed it up well: I am not a great man; I was born to the luxury that is America, and I have made a name for myself in an inconsequential sport. But those women in Darfur, they are my mother and my sisters, the men are my father and my brothers. We are here not to save Darfur, which is just a piece of dirt with lines drawn around it by map makers; we are here to save the people of Darfur, people who don’t know, when they go to sleep at night, whether they will be alive in the morning.

No, this is not about Darfur, really not. It is about the hope and the encouragement we can derive from the fact that there is, indeed, a new generation, that we are not the last to care, the last to act, the last to shout out. These are the new watchmen and watchwomen of the night and of the day, those who labor for the coming of a day that is neither day nor night.

I sometimes tremble when I think of the state of the world my grandchildren will experience. War and environmental degradation, ethnic and religious conflict, terrorism, the whole litany of horror that is so familiar a threat, already too familiar a reality. But today, this week, the trembling is offset: Their parents, my children, the young people at the rally — they are not without power, they are not without will, they are not without resources, they are not silent and will not be.

Whatever happens in Darfur — may the genocide come speedily to an end, may the people of Darfur be restored to their homes and their lives — Darfur is not the final cause, and these young men and women will be there the next time and the one after that. I believe we can count on that, and on them.






Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.