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Shabbat puts focus on human rights

Shabbat puts focus on human rights

Dr. Jerry Ehrlich will talk about the suffering he witnessed in Darfur during the Human Rights Family Education Program Dec. 19 at Temple Emanu-El.
Dr. Jerry Ehrlich will talk about the suffering he witnessed in Darfur during the Human Rights Family Education Program Dec. 19 at Temple Emanu-El.

Temple Emanu-El in Edison will hold a human rights Shabbat on Dec. 19 to commemorate a historical milestone.

The event will mark the Dec. 10 anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations in 1948 to promote human equality and freedom in the wake of the Holocaust.

The program will feature Dr. Jerry Ehrlich, a Cherry Hill pediatrician who, as a Doctors Without Borders volunteer, treated sick and malnourished children in wartorn Darfur.

“The declaration was made in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust and World War II,” said program coordinator Janet Alder Suss. “Synagogues have been commemorating this event for the past several years by discussing the connection between Jewish values and the protection of human rights.”

Ehrlich was renowned for smuggling out pictures drawn by traumatized children highlighting the fear and horror they had experienced. He plans to show a slide presentation of the artwork and photos he took during the summer of 2004 in Darfur.

In a phone interview with NJ Jewish News, Ehrlich described giving crayons and paper to the children he treated and then taking the drawings, hidden in his medical pack, back to his dormitory each night. He smuggled them out of the country between the pages of a New York Times.

The children’s main problems, said Ehrlich, “were starvation and malnutrition” as well as medical issues resulting from their weakened state. “These kids were very vulnerable. It was like treating someone with AIDS. Their immune systems were severely comprised.”

Ehrlich fears the situation has grown worse since Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, facing arrest on war crimes charges for his six-year reign of terror in the Darfur region, “threw out” the 13 humanitarian aid organizations working there.

“What I’m hearing is that it’s really bad without their aid,” Ehrlich said. “It was a nightmare even when I was there.”

He said he is troubled that the Obama administration and Americans in general, having turned their attention to the economy and other pressing problems, have allowed Darfur to slip from the radar.

“Six years later, maybe a number of people have given up, but not me,” said Ehrlich. “I go all over the place talking about Darfur. I’ve spoken at Hillels, Holocaust survivor groups, Jewish organizations. I was honored to be asked to speak at Yad Vashem in the summer of ’08.”

He urged those concerned about the situation to contact their congressional representatives, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama to urge them to take a stronger stand.

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