Parashat Vayigash

Transformative Testimony

We must insist on hearing the voices of survivors of contemporary global violence.

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Indeed, some survivors are relentlessly driven to tell of themselves. In explaining this need, the narrator of What is the What, a novel about the experiences of one of the "lost boys" who walked across Sudan to escape its horrific civil war, recounts:

"Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories…I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there… I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don't want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run."

There are certainly those who, unwilling to listen, do run. Survivors are thus not always met with either a receptive audience or a safe place to speak. But as those who have insisted on the imperative to narrate, listen to, and remember the testimonies of our own community of survivors, we must also insist on hearing the voices of survivors of contemporary global violence.

There is increasing recognition of the importance of providing a forum for such speech and a means of preserving testimonies from survivors of contemporary violence and genocide.

Fourteen years after Rwanda's genocide, the organization called Voices of Rwanda has begun recording and preserving survivor testimony from the Rwandan genocide. And similarly, the organization Three Generations is seeking to preserve testimony from survivors of violence in Cambodia and Darfur, as well as Rwanda. These organizations publish individuals' testimonies--in writing or video--on their websites.

Parashat Vayigash's account of how Judah's personal testimony initiated the brothers' reconciliation provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the transformative work that such testimony can effect in an anguished life. As we struggle to fashion means of mending a recurrently broken world, we should ensure that the two sides of this powerful process--telling and listening--are an integral part of our efforts.

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Rachel Farbiarz

Rachel Farbiarz is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law. Rachel worked as a clerk for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after which she practiced law focusing on the civil rights and humane treatment of prisoners.