YU Stands with Uighurs Holds First Event
Editor’s Note: Sruli Fruchter and Elisheva Kohn, the main organizers of the event, are editors for The Commentator. They were not involved in the editing process of this article.
The newly-formed “YU Stands with Uighurs” committee hosted its first event, Uighur and Jewish Action Against Uighur Genocide, via Zoom on Sunday, Oct. 25. RIETS’s Senior Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Yosef Blau and Uighur refugee and activist Tahir Imin spoke during the one hour program which drew 88 attendees.
The event was organized by Sruli Fruchter (YC ‘22) and Elisheva Kohn (SCW ‘21). Fruchter and Kohn founded “YU Stands with Uighurs” in Sept. 2020, after Fruchter wrote an article in The Commentator discussing how the “Chinese Communist Party has forcibly detained over one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps,” and the responsibility that Jews have to speak up. The two subsequently created a WhatsApp group which has reached almost 190 members with the goal of “[sending] details and relevant articles to educate [on] this genocide in the making,” according to the chat description.
With the help of Yeshiva Student Union President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21), as well as a handful of student activists, an official student government committee was formed. The other committee board members included Deborah Coopersmith (SCW ‘21), Josh Leichter (YC ‘21), Avigail Winokur (SCW ‘22) and Sara Schatz (SCW ‘20).
The event began with Rabbi Blau discussing the Biblical and traditional imperatives for Jews to help others. “It is built into our DNA, or should be built into our DNA to be concerned with the welfare of everyone in the world and not to tolerate injustice,” remarked Rabbi Blau. Adding, “In the particular case of the Uighurs, there is a correlation to our experiences that should alert us to how critical it is that we respond fully. We have a special responsibility because it's part of our identity and we must take this role as seriously as we can.”
Imin spoke next, sharing his life story. Imin was born in Kashgar, the hub of Uighur culture. Imin attended an underground religious school, where he learned and later taught Uighur history and national ideology, until being discovered by the government. Imin was arrested twice and sent to a labor camp for 14 months. There, Imin was fed one bun a day, forced to study Chinese politics and traditions, subject to weekly tortures and forced to publicly denounce himself for betraying the Chinese nation.
After his release, Imin founded a fashion company and a consulting group, which he ran from 2007- 2017. During that time, he also founded the Help Uighur Children organization, The Uighur Knowledge Forum and Uighur Doppa Cultural Festival, a festival celebrating and publicizing Ughur culture.
In 2017, Imin was advised by friends and advisors to leave China due to recent crackdowns by Chinese government officials, and he immediately fled to Israel. Eventually, the Chinese government discovered his location and Imin fled to the United States to seek political asylum.
In the United States, noticing the lack of Uighur awareness or advocacy, Imin began writing about the plight of the Uighurs. Consequently, the Chinese government forced his wife to divorce him and speak out against him for betraying China and his entire family was arrested, and presumably sent to either jails or labor camps. Imin has lost contact with all of his family, including his nine-year old daughter.
Imin continues to write, lecture, and organize protests in front of the UN embassy and the White House advocating for the Uighurs. Imin said ways in which the YU community can help is by boycotting the 2022 Beinjing-held Olympics, joining protests and by simply spreading the word. Imin also took time to answer questions from the audience.
“I was shocked how little the rest of the world is doing to help the Uighur people. Tahir shared with us horrific details which are going on today. I left the event disturbed, but more enlightened to share with other people about this terrible circumstance and wanting to do more to help the Uighur people. Never again,” reflected Greenberg.
“There was a great necessity for the event,” said Akiva Levy (YC ‘23). “Not only can we just sit by and passively disagree with what's going on in China, but we need to take an active role. I admire Sruli and Elisheva for starting the groupchat and the movement.”
Kohn was pleased with the event. “We did have more than 80 participants which was quite a success,” shared Kohn. Adding, “We are also very open to hearing from students, faculty members and administrators if they would like to collaborate, if there is anything we can do together, because this is just the start of the conversation.”
Photo Caption: The poster for the first “YU Stands with Uighurs” event.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University