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Aleppo is calling upon us to act — we must not fail this time

The news from Aleppo is unbearable: ceasefires that do not hold, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, human beings suffering in a way that is incomprehensible.

I am sick at heart, and my soul aches in disbelief that this is happening. How do we justify our inaction? How do we rationalize what has happened to millions of human beings? It is almost harder to cope with all this living here in the Bay Area, a beacon of social justice in our country with so many well-meaning people who make such wonderful contributions to society. What will be your response years from now when asked, “What did you do during the brutal massacre in Syria?”

Five years ago, Syria had a population of 22 million people. More than half of them have since been forced to flee their home, been tortured or killed. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a cruel dictator. When he took over from his father in 2000, there were high hopes as he was a Western-educated ophthalmologist. Yet he has been implicated in a multitude of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This is not the Holocaust, Cambodia or Rwanda. Regrettably, we seem to have learned little from them. We lament our inaction in the past, but fail to act when the time comes. Why has no large national or active local movement, like the Save Darfur Coalition, taken root with voices of conscience speaking out about Syria?

As Einstein once said: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Signs at a 2006 Save Darfur rally in Washington, D.C. photo/wikimedia commons

What can we do?

1. We can tell our congressional leaders that we want them to take immediate action on civilian protection measures.

2. We can write to the president and our Senate and House leaders to seriously consider sanctions and no fly zones in Syria.

3. We can contribute to humanitarian groups who are doing everything they can to help refugees and internally displaced people. Groups like HIAS, the International Medical Corps, White Helmets, International Rescue Committee — there are many such groups doing lifesaving work in and out of Syria. (Please always review an organization on Charity Navigator before giving).

4. We can watch the situation carefully and discuss it with our family and friends. We can make sure that we are vigilant in being informed.

5. We can do more to increase the number of Syrian refugees being allowed into the United States.

Most of all we can see the Syrians as human beings, who deserve medical attention, food, security and a place to live. Above all, they want something that we can give them: the knowledge that the world cares about them,

Shmuel Zygelbaum, the Polish politician in exile in London during World War II, wrote about the Holocaust: “It will actually be a shame to go on living, to belong to the human race, if steps are not taken to halt the greatest crime in human history.” A year later he took his own life as his final form of protest.

We here in the Bay Area are being called upon to halt the greatest crime of our time. Can we halt it? I don’t know. Can we show that we have a conscience and that we care? I have no doubt.


Rabbi Lee Bycel
is rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa and teaches Holocaust and Genocide at the University of San Francisco.