By Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Community Relations Director

On April 17, I attended a New York conference called “Disrupting Uyghur Genocide” to end Uyghur erasure in China in East Turkistan. The conference was sponsored, among others, by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Professor Elie Wiesel, a”h, was my professor at Boston University, and his son, Elisha, has taken a leadership role in fighting to end the cultural genocide of Muslim Uyghurs by the Chinese government, in addition to fighting antisemitism.

Since 2014, an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and Turkic majority peoples have been put through forced “re-education camps” in China, where torture and coercion are used to indoctrinate people so they give up their religious identity. The Chinese campaign of terror against these Muslims has led to a 62% reduction in their birthrate.16,000 mosques (65%) have been destroyed or damaged.

So why would I represent the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor at such a conference – especially right before Passover, one of the busiest times on the Jewish calendar? Why as a Jew, with all our issues of antisemitism around the world and with Israel fighting a war, would I speak at such a conference? The answer, I hope is obvious: in a season where we talk about the Jews being freed from oppression in ancient Egypt, we as Jews must care for all those oppressed around the world.

It was striking and sad that there were very few Muslims at the conference to support their fellow Muslims. The few Muslims there – mostly women leaders – have been subjected to a hateful campaign accusing them of supporting Israel. But these women, who also decry the horrors of Hamas and October 7, do not see their advocacy for the millions of Uyghurs in China as selling out the Palestinians, or the Sudanese, the Darfur Muslims or the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. To the contrary, they recognize that the more we can advocate for all those suffering from real threats of genocide (not the fabricated accusations against Israel), the more we affirm who we are as people.

One of the highlights of this conference for me was speaking on a panel titled “Preserving Uyghur Cultural Identity and Learning from the Jewish Diaspora Experience.” It was fascinating to be able to discuss how the Jewish people can contribute from our own experience to people’s whose identity is being challenged and who have been forced into exile. The Uyghurs are eager for our support and for us to be proud Jews who inspire other peoples with a history of oppression to rise above their pain and maintain their identity, as the Jewish people have done throughout the millennia. Moreover, just as the Jewish people has always retained its connection to our homeland, we can show Uyghurs in exile that their connection to their homeland, in Chinese Turkistan, can be maintained through education and commitment.

Let us fight all those who seek to end our identity as Jews. Our fight for others to maintain their identity and existence will only strengthen our understanding of freedom and the Jewish tradition.