After raising money and awareness of the genocide in Darfur over the past four years, eighth graders at the Talmud Torah of St. Paul are graduating to the next level of global advocacy
By ERIN ELLIOTT /Â Community News Editor
When the Talmud Torah of St. Paul’s eighth grade graduating class leaves the school, they will take with them more than a traditional Jewish education. They will also leave with a commitment to social justice and a greater awareness of the world around them.
For the past four years, the students have been raising money and awareness for the genocide in Darfur, which they first learned about from a magazine article in fourth grade.
“They were really upset about it,” said Robbi Weil, who, along with Amanda Nachman, taught the students that year. “It’s just stuck with them and it’s been a passion of theirs for a long time.”
The students began to learn more about the history and background of the genocide. At the time, both U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who had recently returned from Darfur, and former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, then-ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, spoke to the fourth grade class.
The students launched a fundraising effort by selling hot chocolate during lunch. Their goal was to raise $200.
“Parents donated cups and the hot chocolate, and the students gave up their recess to make it and pour it,” Weil said. “When it was done, they had raised $700.”
- Eighth grade students from the Talmud Torah of St. Paul visited with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in his Capitol office. The annual eighth grade trip to Washington also included a visit to Save Darfur, where the students delivered a check for more than $2,200 that was raised at their “Night for Darfur” in April. (Photo: Courtesy of Talmud Torah of St. Paul)
In sixth grade, the students organized a school carnival, complete with games, food and a dunk tank. They even did some cold calling to area businesses in an effort to secure prizes for the raffle.
“They worked better than some adult committees,” said eighth grade teacher Betsy Israelson, who also taught the students in sixth grade. “It was a lot of hard work and they stepped up to the occasion.”
At the end of the day, the class had raised $1,200, which they sent to Kids for Kids, an organization created to help children struggling to survive in remote villages in Darfur. The students earmarked their donation for the purchase of a water pump and an animal for a Darfurian family.
“Even though this genocide is across the world and it doesn’t really affect us directly, it affects us emotionally,” said student Gabrielle Bernstein. “If you know something bad is happening, you have to do something.”
But the genocide is still raging in Darfur and the students haven’t given up on their commitment to ending it.
“It’s still going on, so we should keep on helping if we can,” said student Rachel Frishberg. “No matter how old you are or how many of you there are, you can still make a difference. It hasn’t ended yet, so I’ll keep supporting them and raising money.”
In April, the students hosted “A Night for Darfur: A Get-Together with a Cause,” which attracted about 150 people. In addition to dancing, food and a raffle, the event was designed to support the efforts of the Save Darfur organization.
The students distributed postcards and petitions, and showed a video on what life is like in Darfur now.
“After they saw the video, people came up to me and said, ‘Wow, I really didn’t know what was going on,’” said student Elliott Stern. “Our eyes are more open to the world. Now, when we hear about something, we’ll click ‘Read More’ and want to tell our friends about it.”
The students collected more than $2,200 for the Save Darfur organization, which they delivered in person during the annual eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., in May. The students also visited with McCollum and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who had been arrested on April 27 for protesting the genocide outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington.
“[Ellison] was supportive and impressed by us, and he talked to us for a really long time. It’s great to know that people who are in power do care and that we’re not in this fight alone,” said student Aaron Maccabee. “I always thought you can change the world if you were a politician, but anyone can make a difference.”
As they prepare for a new chapter of their life, Israelson is certain the students will stay aware of and involved in the world around them.
“They’re very politically savvy for their age,” she said. “I believe if it’s not this specific topic, they will be involved politically at school, politically in the world. This class really has potential to be the movers and shakers of our future. They know how to do it at a young age.”
Student Sage Kohnstamm said it best.
“My favorite quote is, ‘Be a Fruit Loop in a box of Cheerios,’” she said. “Even if no one else is doing it, that shouldn’t stop you.”