Sisterhood Blog

Messinger Fasting for Darfur

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Most of us are accustomed to fasting only on Yom Kippur. But Ruth Messinger president of the American Jewish World Service, is taking on a two-day fast on June 15th and 16th, in order to bring more attention to the plight of the millions of victims of the deadly violence in Darfur.

She is joining an effort, called the Darfur Fast for Life, which was started by actress Mia Farrow. In April Farrow began a 12-day water-only fast “as a personal expression of outrage at a world that is somehow able to stand by and watch innocent men, women and children needlessly die of starvation, thirst and disease,” she said at the time.

Messinger is joining a growing list of celebrities, politicians, activists and other influentials, along with ordinary people, who are fasting to increase awareness of the deepening crisis.

In fact, she has been fasting on Mondays since Farrow’s physician told her she had to stop fasting, said Messinger in an interview with The Sisterhood.

The American Jewish World Service raises money from Jews which funds international aid in some of the most desperate places on earth, including Darfur, where a genocide against some indigenous ethnic groups has left millions homeless and hundreds of thousands dead in the six years since it began.

Messinger appears to be the first leader of a Jewish organization to join the effort, though Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center will join her starting Monday night, and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation has also publicized it, she said.

At the end of the You Tube video she recorded about her upcoming fast, Messinger says, “Fast with me and let our hunger instruct us to listen. Fast with me and let our hunger instruct us to act.”

Fasting has two purposes, she said. One is to raise awareness.

“It’s hard for people, any people, to sustain concern about an issue that’s into its 7th year. As soon as you remind people, there’s a quick response. People have already written back saying ‘yes, I’m going to join with you.’ “

The other is so that she can remind herself what it is like for the more than one million people of Darfur for whom getting clean water and food is now difficult, people on whose behalf she often speaks.

“It’s a way of reminding myself that this is what it feels like all the time to the people I’ve been fighting for.”

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