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Yosef Roth, 26
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GLOBAL36 Under 36 2020

Yosef Roth, 26

Fighting Oppression in Uyghur

What you do:

I am a semicha student in Yeshiva University’s seminary, RIETS, and a Ph.D. student studying biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

Unexpected fun fact:

I named my software project — Datanator — after Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s machines in “Phineas and Ferb” and “Milo Murphy’s Law.”

How you got here:

A year and a half ago, I read about the unjust imprisonment of approximately 1 million Uyghur people in concentration camps. I was astonished by the scale of the atrocity. I tried to find a public demonstration encouraging our government to fight this oppression, but there were none planned. I realized I was as responsible as anyone else, so I began to plan a rally. I applied for a demonstration permit, reached out to human rights groups and religious leaders to speak and created a website. Others who wanted to take action quickly reached out to me, and we formed a team. I now run Uyghur Rally together with Corby Johnson. We have held four demonstrations, been featured in The New York Times and were on the front page of Reddit (reaching millions of people).

Short-term and long-term goals:

In the short-term, I plan to organize more demonstrations to increase awareness of the Uyghur oppression, and to encourage the use of targeted sanctions through the Global Magnitsky Act to combat it. Due to the complex economic relationship between the U.S. and China, long-term change requires widespread public support. I hope to persuade as many people as possible that the moral benefits of combating the Uyghur oppression outweighs the economic consequences. 

What do you consider unique or innovative about what you do?

Since the public has limited awareness of the Uyghur oppression, our effectiveness lies in precise strategic planning rather than general public demonstrations. We plan our rallies strategically by communicating clear policy objectives (e.g., using the Magnitsky Act) to specific government branches (e.g., Office of Foreign Assets Control) that control the policy issues at hand.

What Jewish source, a person, a book, etc., has inspired your work?

I was inspired to act by the passage in Isaiah that we read on Yom Kippur. The passage describes a community of people in the midst of prayer and fasting, but who are ignoring the afflictions of the oppressed and the hungry. God tells them: “No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, and to untie the cords of the yoke; to set the oppressed free; to break off every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). Fulfilling our individual religious responsibilities is insufficient if we ignore the oppressed.

How does your Jewish identity influence your work?

As God-fearing people, we hope לְתַקֵּן עולָם בְּמַלְכוּת שַׁדַּי. וְכָל בְּנֵי בָשר יִקְרְאוּ בִשְׁמֶךָ — to set up a world under the kingdom of God, where everyone recognizes God. Right now China has imprisoned millions of people in concentration camps, primarily for practicing Islam. Former inmates report being forced to renounce their faith and to swear allegiance to Xi Xinping. Millions more are prevented from publicly worshipping God for fear of being imprisoned. I believe we must defend those who worship God against those who would prevent them.

Follow me: uyghurrally.org, @UyghurN

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