At their annual gala in recognition of leading community philanthropists, Jewish World Watch presented the Katzburg Gabriel family with the Global Soul Award Wednesday night in Royce Hall.
According to co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Jewish World Watch (JWW) was founded in 2004 in response to the genocide in Darfur. It had also been 10 years since the Rwandan genocide, in which almost one million were killed and the world was silent.
“Since the Holocaust, we’ve all adopted the adage of ‘never again’ because the world was silent when we [Jews] were massacred as well,” Kamenir-Reznik said. Jewish World Watch’s motto “Do not stand idly by” comes from the Leviticus 19:16, which reads, “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the LORD.”
In an effort to put everlasting meaning into the expression “never again,” she and the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis co-founded JWW “to educate people about genocide, politically mobilize people against genocide, and bring relief and support to people affected by genocide.”
Over the past 11 years, JWW has become a leading voice in the fight against genocide, mobilizing tens of thousands of people as well as raising millions of dollars for their causes, which include providing facilities for survivors of rape in the Dominican Republic of the Congo, increasing food rations to the people of Darfur, and much more.
The night of honor began with a reception for guests, who included friends of the Gabriel family, synagogue religious leaders, teachers, students and community activists. Attendees then moved into the main hall, where speakers took to the stage to introduce the event’s program.
Kamenir-Reznik said a few words about her organization’s mission, and also took some time to remember Rabbi Schulweis, who passed away just 11 months ago. “There is no moment of silence for Rabbi Schulweis…because Rabbi Schulweis envisioned Jewish World Watch as a means of breaking silence. Silence, which all but enabled the Holocaust and countless other genocides and atrocities of our time,” she said.
The night’s entertainment began with Kronos Quartet, a group of four musicians who performed works influenced by international styles of music from Syria, Uzbekistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Armenia, to name a few. Last of the songs was a somewhat abstract Iranian piece accompanied by a video.
The video showed the step-by-step process of making a Persian carpet — from painting the design in the beginning, to hand-weaving the threads at the end. Toward the conclusion of the video, the musicians played with a frantic and repetitive demeanor as an old Iranian woman sang a tune about weaving carpets, before the camera scanned over the finished work of art.
As I sat there looking up at the image before me, overlaid with sounds of clipping and pounding handiwork, I wondered what on Earth any of this have to do with the JWW or fighting genocide, when the thought struck me: this piece demonstrated all the labor that goes into making this luxurious commodity, something we don’t see by simply looking at the carpets that line the floors of privileged American homes.
Kronos Quartet’s performance was meant to create sympathy among the audience members for our neighbors, which is in line with the work and purpose of JWW. Once we gain appreciation for our fellow man, wherever living in the world, we may seek to love and protect him. As speaker Kristy Edmonds said in her welcome to the audience, artists are often the first victims of violence, and like the JWW, they seek to prevent and heal damage.
The program continued with an informational video about the organization and this year’s award winners, and then it was time to present the Global Soul award. Family members Stuart, Judith and Oren Gabriel, as well as Jesse and Rachel Katzburg Gabriel, and their infant son EJ were welcomed to the stage to accept their award.
As Kamenir-Reznik noted, this particular family has been involved with JWW from the start. Jesse and Oren were both student body presidents of UC Berkeley, bringing the mission of JWW to their campuses with various awareness campaigns and fundraising events. Oren even spent time in Rwanda working with orphan children.
Oren was last of his family to make accepting comments, saying, “Our world is hurting, our humanity is hurting, but this is not a time to despair. This is a time to act. And JWW gives us that ability, gives us that mechanism to act, to prevent genocide.”
Lastly, the festive night ended with Cantor Phil Baron of Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue singing Bob Marley’s “Give a Little Love,” a fitting close to the event, as it reminded guests that, on the most fundamental level, all one needs to combat pervasive conflict in the world is, simply, love.