Never mind that he was only a high school student, and that Darfur was a world away from his home in Portland, Maine. Never mind that he is Jewish and Darfuris are Muslim--two groups with a long history of conflict. When he made contact with Darfuri refugees in Maine, they were so moved by his compassion and commitment to their cause that they made him an honorary member of their cultural group. Last spring Zuckerman hosted his Darfuri friends at his family’s Passover seder, which included a Haggadah with a supplement on Darfur.
At 18 years old, Zuckerman is considered one of the most outspoken advocates of the Darfuri cause in the U.S. He has spoken at colleges, universities, and before the Maine state legislature on behalf of Darfuris, many of whom have settled in Portland. He has lobbied congress on their behalf. He was instrumental in getting Maine to divest state funds from Sudan. Last spring, he organized two busloads of protesters who traveled from Maine to Washington D.C. for a Darfur rally.
He is nominated as most inspiring person of the year for helping to shorten the distance between America and Africa, between Jews and Muslims, and between the privileged and the oppressed, as well as for his unflagging belief that one person can save the world.
Zuckerman’s human rights and social justice work don’t stop with Darfur. In high school, he was the co-president of the civil rights club and traveled to Honduras to help build a local water system and to Costa Rica to take part in a program on endangered wildlife and reforestation. Last spring he traveled to Guatemala to advocate for children who live in garbage dumps.
“Those kids are the real inspiration,” Zuckerman told Beliefnet. “Their homes are pieces of tin off the side of a garbage dump with dozens of vultures circling around it, [yet] they have such an amazing thirst to learn.” This fall, Zuckerman enrolled at George Washington University--a school he says he chose so the next time he wanted to march on the nation’s capitol he wouldn’t have to take an 11-hour bus ride to do it.
“Before I left for college, the Darfuris had a going-away party for me with Sudanese food and everything,” Zuckerman says. “It was really sad to leave them, my friends from high school, and my parents. But I am doing well now in college.” He is taking classes in African politics and is on the executive board of STAND: Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.
On the rare occasion that he feels discouraged, he opens the Jewish texts for guidance. “I sort of remind myself, when I get frustrated with my own inability to do as much as I like, that the Talmud says, ‘It's not my job to finish the task. But neither am I free to desist from it.’”