On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing linking the aging Jewish congregants at Temple Sholom in Floral Park, New York, to the abused and victimized women in Africa’s massive land called the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Yet, despite the miles that separate them, they are, in fact, related. “It’s all connected,” according to Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker, who leads Temple Sholom. God has made us partners in repairing the world, she contends.
That’s why her congregation—along with other faith communities as diverse as Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut, and Lincolnshire Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Indiana—has signed the Congo Sabbath Initiative, an effort by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing to shed light on the violence being waged against women in Congo.
The initiative asks faith communities across religions and denominations to set aside a specific day before the end of April as “Congo Sabbath.” Congregations who sign on take active steps to educate their people about the atrocities taking place in the Congo. Offering prayers, reading articles, and raising money are all ways for people to get involved, said Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the Westport, Connecticut-based Religious Institute.
The violence taking place in the eastern DRC has roots in the Rwandan genocide more than a decade ago, which seeped over into bordering Congo. The Congolese army, militias, and rebels have battled over power and the land, which is rich in natural resources such as gold, copper, and tin.
Villages are left pillaged in the wake of the fighting, and women are raped as a way of inciting terror and fear. The sexual violence in the Congo is the worst in the world, according to the United Nations. In fact, one in two women there has been sexually victimized, often leaving them with HIV or internal injuries—or killing them outright.