The 30th Annual International Day of Peace
There are a lot of holidays to think about this time of year: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, International Hobbit Day (no, but really, happy birthday Bilbo and Frodo). It would be a mistake, however, to let the calendar’s crowdedness overshadow the celebration today of the United Nations’ 30th annual International Day of Peace.
In fact, that Peace Day comes at this time in the Jewish calendar, during the reflection and repentance period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, lends the holiday even greater meaning. How can we truly reflect on the types of violence that we, as American Jews, have experienced? How can we respond to Isaiah’s provocation – “Is this the fast that I desired?” – with a renewed commitment to work toward peace? This process must begin by trying to grasp the scope of violence in our society. In this vein, here are some numbers for your pre-Yom Kippur digestion. This is by no means every kind of violence, nor should it be assumed that this reflects every instance of these types of violence (these statistics tend to underreport). It does, however, begin to paint a picture of how much work there is left to do on this 30th International Day of Peace.
- 4,474 Americans have been killed in Iraq since the Iraq War began.
- At least 108,824 Iraqis, but by some estimates as many as 1 million, have died.
- 2,098 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
- There is no complete number for the death of Afghani civilians, but since 2007 nearly 13,000 have died.
- The U.S. spent $718 billion on the military in 2011 (20% of the federal budget).
But not all violence is as distant as the violence of warfare:
- 1.25 million violent crimes were committed in the United States in 2010
- 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence in the United States every year, and 1 in 4 will experience domestic violence in their life-time.
- 6,628 incidents of hate crimes or bias-motivated crimes were reported last year.
Then there is the violence that, rather than breaking the laws of the U.S., is enacted in the process of trying to uphold them:
- 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2010 — about 0.7% of adults in the U.S. resident population.
- 43 people were executed in state-custody in 2011.
- 2,000 migrants have died trying to cross the desert into the United States since 2000.
Finally there is the violence that is less easy to discern or define, the violence of economic injustice and unequal opportunity:
- 46.2 million Americans live in poverty, approximately 15% of the population.
- 925 million people live in hunger worldwide.
- 6.9 million children across the globe died before the age of five in 2011.
Next week, on Yom Kippur, all Jews who have lost an immediate family member will stand and say the Mourner’s Kaddish, others will say it in memory of Jewish martyrs and still others will stand for those who have been victims of violence in years past. I have always been impressed by the Mourner’s Kaddish as a prayer. Jewish tradition asks those who have lost people, those who may have the greatest justification for turning toward violence, to say the words of “Oseh Shalom” and pray for peace. Many of us have been victims of violence or have seen how it can disrupt our communities. All of us – as citizens, as consumers, and as taxpayers – are implicated in these many forms of violence. Yet on Yom Kippur we all stand together and pray for peace. And after we hear the shofar at Yom Kippur’s conclusion, we are all commanded to begin the construction of our sukkot – our fragile shelters of social change and peace.
Click here to find International Day of Peace events happening near you.
Shana Tova, have a good and meaningful fast, and a reflective International Day of Peace.
Image courtesy of the United Nations