Monday, December 31, 2012

Celebrating accomplishments; passionate to do more! GPM Achievements in 2012

Gabriel Project Mumbai started working to alleviate poverty, provide nutrition and support literacy in the slums of Mumbai in June 2012. In the last seven months GPM has:
  • Provided 84,000 nutritious hot meals to 500 children ages 5-12 attending classes in the slums.
  • Enabled 336,000 hours of learning for children living in the slums. These classes were provided by the devoted and skilled teachers of our partner organization REAP
  • Dedicated over 270 volunteer hours to the children living in the slums. Jewish volunteers from around the world as well as Indian Jewish volunteers have provided these informal classes in English, Math, Science and Hygiene
  • Supported the economic betterment of 160 women working in the food-industry thanks to a local micro- financing program, thus helping the women to support their families and strengthen the slum community
  • Involved over 26 Jewish volunteers from around the world and Jewish Indians in volunteering with children in the slums
  • Delivered 500 drinking water bottles so the children in the slums can bring water to class every day.
  • Provided  60 hours of classes in Jewish Social Justice values, Jewish Indian History, spoken Hindi and Indian Culture for our local and international Jewish volunteers.
  • Developed 2 strong partnerships with JDC & JDC Entwine to bring Jewish young adults from around the world and local Jewish Indian young adults to volunteer with the Hindu and Muslim children living in absolute poverty in the slums of Mumbai. We have also nurtured a dynamic partnership with a fantastic local NGO, 'REAP' that provides dedicated, professional and nurturing teachers in the slums.
We are extremely grateful for the partner organizations who help us help the children. Thanks to the wonderfully dedicated and professional teachers and coordinators at REAP who are devoted to the welfare of the children and allow us to work alongside them. We also are grateful to the wonderful people at the JDC and JDC Entwine for their support in volunteer recruitment, promoting GPM's mission and strong belief in helping others and alleviating  poverty around the world.

Please join us in our campaign to provide nutritious meals and quality education to the children living in the slums of India. Join us to fight malnutrition and illiteracy and help us give these wonderful children a better future!

Check out more about the Gabriel Project Mumbai's nutrition and literacy support programs at our website, or at

Monday, December 3, 2012

Exciting partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)

Gabriel Project Mumbai is excited to announce its partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  As the world's largest Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, JDC works in more than 70 countries and in Israel to rescue Jews in danger, bring relief to needy Jews, revitalize connections to Jewish identity and culture, and provide non-sectarian disaster relief and long-term development assistance worldwide.

In India, Gabriel Project Mumbai is collaborating with JDC’s local office and staff to develop unique opportunities for GPM program participants to engage and interact with the local Indian Jewish community. Members of JDC's Indian Jewish youth group, JYP (Jewish Youth Pioneers), are volunteering with international Jewish volunteers in the GPM program to alleviate poverty, improve nutrition and health to hundreds of children living in the slums of Mumbai.

Gabriel Project is also partnering with JDC Entwine, JDC’s young adult platform, and starting in 2013, all GPM volunteers will apply and get placed in India through the Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps. Entwine’s Global Jewish Service Corps sends young Jews around the world to directly engage with JDC’s global mission and actively fulfill the value of Jewish responsibility through service placements in overseas Jewish communities, in Israel, and in countries where JDC is involved with humanitarian interventions.

For more information and to apply, email

Gabriel Project Mumbai is excited for this great opportunity to partner with such an outstanding, long-established Jewish humanitarian organization and JDC is equally excited to be partnering with this effective grassroots attempt to alleviate poverty amongst some of India's most vulnerable children and populations.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beautiful Jewish Indian wedding celebrations -Mazal Tov Sigalith!

The entire team of GPM staff and volunteers were privileged and honored to attend the wedding of GPM Program Coordinator Sigalith Isaac as well as her Mehendi, a pre-wedding festive ceremony where friends and family wish the bride well, shower her with rice and blessings and prepare her henna which is placed on her ring finger. At the same time, in another part of Mumbai, her groom, Joel, was having a Mehendi of his own with his henna fashioned on his ring finger. Later that evening family members from both families travelled to each other's Mehendi and combined some of the bride's henna on the groom's ring finger and a small piece of the groom's henna on the bride's ring finger -- joining their hennas, their fingers and their future life together.
The Mehendi at Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue
 Sigalith’s Mehendi at the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue was a wonderful festive experience. We thank Sigalith and her family for inviting all of us; it was a fascinating and very enjoyable evening!

At the wedding, two days later, at the Magen David Synagogue the young couple were wed in a beautiful ceremony which included an amazing religious song serenade by Joel to his bride. The wedding ceremony was beautiful and the reception was wonderful. At the reception Sigalith and Joel led the many friends and family in lively dancing to wonderful Jewish and Indian music. We wish Sigalith and Joel a lifetime of love and happiness!
Wedding at Magen David Synagogue

Monday, November 12, 2012

GPM hosts LIFE-B'Tzedek Leadership Program

GPM staff and volunteers were thrilled to host the eleven member LIFE-B'Tzedek program participants who kicked off their 4 month India experience with a week in Mumbai. GPM escorted the group to the Kalwa slums, explained the challenges of its residents and introduced the participants to women’s groups preparing nutritious food for the 500 children attending class in the slum. Group members were given the opportunity to ask questions and connect with the women as well as the dedicated teachers in classrooms run by our partner REAP.
LIFE-B'Tzedek participants with a class of children in the Kalwa slums

The LIFE-B'Tzedek participants spent Shabbat in Thane and attended the beautiful services at the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue. The Shabbat meals, prepared by the GPM volunteers, were an accomplishment onto itself. Never had our apartment in Thane hosted 17 people for Shabbat meals! There was a lot of food and drink, discussions on social justice, equality and global poverty, as well as great fun. Kudos to Sarah for the best humus spread in all of India, Danielle for a lot of awesome Indian & Western food, Jacob for the delicious pumpkin pies, Simon for schlepping, Hanna for the entertainment and Amanda her moral support.

New friends

Saturday night was an evening of fun! A trip to Thane is not complete without a visit to the famous ‘Chocolate Room’ a favorite hangout for GPM volunteers and a great place to order ‘chocolate sizzlers’ and to unwind. Later in the evening we went to the movies at a local mall where intermission refreshments include samosas and vada pavs.

GPM volunteers and LIFE-B'Tzedek participants at the 'Chocolate Room'

Our time spent with the Betzedk-LIFE group ended with a bang, first at Sigalith Isaac’s Mehendi and later at her wedding. The uniquely Indian Jewish wedding was so beautiful and exciting. It was a great honor being part of the celebration and we wish Sigalith and her new husband, Joel, many years of health and happiness!
LIFE-B'Tzedek participants at the Mehendi

Thursday, November 1, 2012

GPM a member of Repair the World's IJSL Technical Assistance Program

GPM is proud to have been accepted to Repair the World's IJSL Technical Assistance Program which consists of group trainings, individualized coaching and consulting, and networking opportunities about program evaluation, participant recruitment and service with impact for organizations running Immersive Jewish service-learning (IJSL) programs.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Help where help is needed

From Simon Avrutis GPM volunteer, Fall 2012:

Today I am going to take a more serious tone with my writing. I know you guys are used to me making fun of myself, but today will be a little different so prepare yourselves!

As many of you know Daniella and I are in Thane helping out in the slums of Kalva through the Gabriel Project Mumbai. Here is a link with the info and donation page if you are interested:

I want to make a point here that the response so far has been fantastic. A lot friends and family have helped out selflessly, despite the fact that it does not directly affect them. I mean, why give $50 to help some unfortunate soul half way across the world? What difference does it make?

I have spent a while thinking about this and have actually borrowed the answer from a friend. He states: “We are very fortunate to have what we have. Who knows? There might be some kids there who could be great politicians, musicians, sportsmen, engineers etc. Help kindle this flame”

And that is exactly it. We are very fortunate to have what we have. I am so lucky that i was born in Australia, that I was sent to a private school and had a great education.
I was lucky that potential was given to me on a plate. Yes i have to work and commit myself to achieve anything great in this world, but at least I have a chance. I have a chance to be whatever and who ever I want.

But these kids don’t. Not even the kids, but anyone confined to a life in slums is pretty much option-less. What hope do they have of achieving great things? Some of these kids are so bright, I can’t help to think that if they were in my position they would be much brighter and much more successful then I am. The only difference is that they lost the draw of life and ended up in the slums.

Yes, I and many people reading this blog are fortunate; maybe not as fortunate as our neighbors but definitely more lucky then the people in the slums. The way I see it is that we owe the world. We owe humanity for our good fortune. And when an opportunity arises to help another in need, we damn well better take that opportunity and pay what we owe. I owe it to the world, you owe it the world, we ALL owe it to the world to help those in need any way we can. That does not mean “donate now to this cause or you are a bad person”. It means that I firmly believe that we should help our fellow man in some way. Jew, Hindu or Muslim, it does not matter. A man in need is a man who deserves ours help.

Sometimes that may be a 10,000 dollar donation to a hospital, other times it may mean buying a meal for the homeless. In my case, right here right now it means bringing awareness to the dire situation in the slums of India and offering people an opportunity to help out.

Nothing makes me more proud of my friends and family when I hear acts of utter selflessness, when they put their money where their mouth is and help a complete random just because it is needed. At the same time nothing upsets me more when instead of selflessness I see greed and ignorance. 

You see, in my eyes, a small donation leads to bigger things. If we can lead by example and show people the better moral ground, then hopefully they follow. Hopefully the next time they see a cause or a man in need they take the initiative and help out.

Again, I am not saying that people who do not donate have poor morals. Rather, I am stating that if they have not been involved with a charity or have not had the opportunity to help out, donating even a little bit is a stepping stone to a solid moral future.  This leads me to the “maybe” people. This is going to a long rant I can tell, but I have not met a more unproductive group of people in my life. 

It absolutely befuddles me why a maybe option even exists on Facebook. Especially when it comes to the donation page we put up. What exactly are people ‘maybying’ about? Either help out or don’t. There is no judgment here. If you already help out other causes or cannot afford to help here then don’t…. it is absolutely ok- even if you just don’t want to, that is fine!! If you are thinking about helping out but are just sitting on the side line waiting for G-d knows what, then, just do it. Are we saying that maybe these people are in need of our help? Are we saying that maybe it is a good thing to donate to? What is this indecisive crap…

Maybe I am missing the point here, maybe not. G-d I hate ‘maybe’. Is it a form of procrastination or are you waiting for the situation to get worse? Does it make people feel good that maybe they are thinking about donating? Unbelievable…

If I offend someone, well sorry, I don’t mean to offend people… but please give me a reason as to why ‘maybe’ is an OK option? I do not understand. What are we waiting for?

So back to the slums… If there is one thing I can take home from helping out here it is this:

The world is not a fair place… In fact, I absolutely believe I have been super fortunate in my life, I have been given things others here just dream of.

But that does not make the world a bad place either. I believe in the exact opposite. The world is a beautiful place; a place of love, opportunity, help and compassion. But it is up to us. It is up to you and me to make this world a better place. We owe it to each other to make this unfair world a beautiful world.

So the next time you see some lady on the street begging for money, give her a buck or two, better yet buy her some food. The next time you see a homeless man jacketless on a cold winter night - give him your jacket (not that I have ever done that but it sounds good). The next time you skip a night out and save $50 - donate it to charity.

The next time you see someone helping out with a cause or a charity, congratulate them on their efforts and hope that others follow in their example. The next time your friend is financial need, help him out, its only money. The next time you see someone in need. Stop for a second, don’t judge, and don’t take pity, just think how can I help and I guarantee that you can.

The world is what we make of it… If we are not making it better then what are you doing?
I leave you with this quote:

“Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.” (Voltaire) 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Avinu Malkeinu

This Yom Kippur, the liturgy of the holiest day of the Jewish Year had special and profound meaning to me.  Every year we ask forgiveness of our sins from God. Among many of the prayers, we read the ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ (Our Father, our King) prayer. The congregation stands before the open ark and we beg for forgiveness, we beg for G-d’s compassion, the end of pestilence, war and hate. The prayer is deep, reflective and primal. The tunes we use and the lyrics we read are primal, ancient and heartfelt. But along with our heartfelt spiritual cry to God, there is one request that always seemed to me to be commonplace and mundane.

The verse, “Our Father, our King seal us in the book of livelihood and fiscal well-being” always seemed a little bit trivial. It felt like the members of the congregation were asking for a good source of income, a good job. We were all dressed in nice formal clothes asking the Almighty for the ability to buy more good clothes, trips overseas and fancier homes. For years I was upset that this overall meaningful prayer beseeching God for the welfare of humanity was tainted with a request for a good job.

This year, this verse feels like the most important one to me in the entire Avinu Malkeinu prayer. Over the last several months I have been fortunate to be involved with an organization that alleviates hunger for hundreds of children in the slums of Mumbai. Gabriel Project Mumbai is a Jewish initiative that provides a daily nutritious meal (and literacy) to school children living in the slums. Volunteering in the slums you observe crippling hunger, malnutrition and ill health. You see families struggling every day to earn a few cents to buy food to eat. You see men and women, parents of small children starting their day searching for work, not knowing if they will return to their 5 ft x 5ft corrugated metal hut (with no electricity and no water) with any food for their hungry families. Children often come to class on Monday without eating anything since the end of the previous week!

 We know that many of the children aged 4-14, if not attending class and receiving a daily meal, will be on the streets working in terrible menial jobs. We also know that without a basic education and being illiterate a child’s future will be much the same as the illiterate uneducated men and women in the slums…In simple terms, these men and women were children themselves who were forced to work as children and forfeited an education to live in abject poverty.

I can’t think of a more difficult situation to be in for parents who look lovingly at heir beautiful children and know that they are malnourished and in poor health. It must be incredibly frustrating to seek work and be unable to find any or to work hard but not make enough money to support your family. It must be heart wrenching not knowing if you are able to feed your children and that that fact may never change.

“Avinu Malkeinu seal us in the book of livelihood and fiscal well-being”. What an incredibly powerful prayer. I wish that all mankind will be placed in the book of livelihood this year!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

להתנדב עם ילדים בשכונות עוני במומבאי

כל מוצ'ילייר ישראלי ממוצע מכיר את הסיפורים על חווית הנחיתה בהודו: עוני, לכלוך וקבצנים בכל מקום. אנחנו רגילים לחשוב על זה בתור הרקע לטבילת האש הראשונה בהודו, חוויית הסתגלות מחשלת שמי שיעמוד בה יברח מיד לנופים המדהימים של הצפון או המדבר, ומי שלא - יקח את המטוס הראשון חזרה לארץ. מעטים האנשים שיעצרו ויתבוננו אל תוך עולם הרפאים הזה בתור חלק מהמציאות.
גם אני ושיר נחתנו למומבאי באותה תחושה. עבורי זו הייתה הפעם הראשונה, ושיר לידי הרגיעה – זה בסדר, לא כל הודו ככה. 3 שבועות אחר כך, כשישבנו באותן שכונות עוני ולימדנו את הילדים מהרחובות לדבר אנגלית. אותו עולם רפאים מפחיד הפך לאחת החוויות היפות והמשמעותיות של הטיול שלנו.
הגענו לפרוייקט לגמרי במקרה, כמו שקורה עם הרבה דברים בטיול להודו. ארוחת שבת בבית חב"ד במומבאי הפגישה אותנו עם ג'ייקוב, יוזם הפרוייקט, שסיפר שאותם מראות קשים גרמו לו להגיד –אני רוצה לעשות משהו למען הילדים האלה. הסיפור הזה הפיג מעט את מעטה הפחד מעולם העוני של הודו וגרם גם לנו לרצות לעשות משהו למענם.
וכך בהחלטה של רגע, הזזנו את הטיסה חזרה הביתה וחזרנו לשבוע התנדבות בפרויקט, טעימה קטנה ובלתי נשכחת מהיוזמה המדהימה הזו. הרגעים הראשונים היו קצת מפחידים, לחצות את פסי הרכבת לתוך הסלאם, לדרוך בנעלי רפתנים בבוץ שנערם בשבילים שבין הפחונים, ולהביט בילדים המתרוצצים יחפים לצידנו. אבל ברגע שנכנסנו לכיתות הפחד נעלם: הילדים מתוקים ומנומסים, סקרנים ונבונים, צמאים לדעת ונהנים ללמוד.
היחס החם והמחבק של ג'ייקוב, סיגלית וסיביה, עזר לנו להכנס לעיניניים מהר מאוד. במהלך השבוע תרגלנו עם הילדים את הABC, למדנו יחד צבעים, מספרים וחיות. שיחקנו, שרנו צחקנו ונהננו. אין דבר יותר מהנה מלראות כמה הם גאים בעצמם כאשר הם מצליחים לזכור את המילים. אולי חוץ מכשבסוף היום הם שואלים אותנו – האם תחזרו לפה שוב מחר?
אין ספק ששבוע הוא טעימה קטנה מאוד, אבל הוא נתן לנו הצצה להודו האמיתית, למראות הקשים יחד עם הלבבות החמים, והוא הותיר בנו הרגשה נהדרת, שאולי עשינו קצת טוב לכמה ילדים מקסימים.

הדס ושיר התנדבו בGABRIEL PROJECT MUMBAI בסוף אוגוסט 2012. אנחנו כל כח שמחים שהם היו איתנו!
הדס ושיר עוזרים להכין אוכל לילדים
עם הילדים

Monday, September 17, 2012

A thankful Rosh Hashana in Mumbai

On this Rosh Hashana Eve, we would like to personally thank you for enabling us to provide nutrition and literacy for children living in the Mumbai slums. We have only been in operation for less than four months, but we think you will be proud of our achievements:
  •     Provided 45,000 nutritious hot meals to 500 children ages 5-12 attending classes in the slums.
  •     Enabled 180,000 hours of learning to take place
  •     Delivered 500 drinking water bottles so the children in the slums can bring water to class every day.
  •     Dedicated over 270 volunteer hours to the children living in the slums
  •     Supported the businesses of 160 women working in the food-industry thanks to a local microfinancing program, thus helping the women to support their families and strengthen the slum community
  •     Involved over 20 Jewish volunteers from around the world in the slums, anywhere from a few days to a few months.
  •     Provided 30+ hours of classes in Jewish Social Justice values and Jewish Indian History for our local and international Jewish volunteers.
  •     Developed partnerships with JDC India to bring local Jewish Indian young adults to volunteer with the Hindu and Muslim children living in the slums
  •     Nurtured a strong partnership with a fantastic local NGO, 'REAP' that provides dedicated, professional and nurturing teachers in the slums.

Let's hope that in the upcoming year , 5773 (2012-13), we are able to increase these numbers by at least three- fold! Please join us in our campaign to provide nutritious meals and quality education to the children living in the slums of India. Join us to fight malnutrition and illiteracy and help us give these wonderful children a better future!

The staff and current volunteers at Gabriel Project Mumbai would like to thank you all again for your continued support in helping this Jewish initiative for providing literacy, education and nutrition to the children living in the slums of India. We could not have done all this without you!

We would like to wish you all a Shana Tova Umetuka, a Sweet New Year!

Warmest regards,

GPM volunteers in Mumbai.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thanks Gabe from New Voices Magazine!

Gabe Weinstein, a writer for New Voices magazine and business Ohio University exchange student in Mumbai, visited GPM in August and wrote a beautiful article about our work. Thanks, Gabe, for helping spread the word about our initiative. And come back and visit any time!  Below is an excerpt from the article:

Thane, INDIA — Inside the narrow alleys of the Kalwa slum, past the shanties abutting the train tracks and the stray pig rummaging through garbage scraps, Pramila Mane rattles her rice dish and gently blows on the kernels on the second floor of her home. Across the room, Shayna Lebovic, 19, a volunteer with the Gabriel Project Mumbai, a Jewish nonprofit working to reduce hunger and provide educational services in Kalwa, crouches in front of a small chopping board diligently chopping onions.
Mane, a member of a local women’s group partnered with the Gabriel Project, and Lebovic would not be cooking partners in this enclave north of Mumbai were it not for Jacob Sztokman. The director and founder of the Gabriel Project, Sztokman toured the Dharavi slum during a business trip to Mumbai in 2011 while working for a data security company. Sztokman, 42, did not visit just to pay homage to the slum that inspired “Slum Dog Millionaire.” While doing research prior to the trip, he watched YouTube videos and read up on poverty in India and felt inspired to work in the slums.
His mind churned out ideas on how to empower slum residents as he saw 8-year olds sweat through each exhausting day of work and residents walk through seemingly endless puddles of standing water.
“I had a feeling that this was a very different place where people worked very hard but did not make enough money for necessities,” Sztokman said about his visit to Dharavi. “Afterwards I told my wife that we could do something. We can give a helping hand. We can’t necessarily solve their problems. It’s especially important for the Jewish people to lend a helping hand. It’s important for communities to support other communities.”
 Read the complete article here: 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goodbye 1st group of volunteers!

Three summer volunteers went back home last week, but their impact is still being felt. Although college students Sara Birnbaum and Shayna Lebovic, and recent graduate Leora Chefitz returned to North America after a packed summer of activity and involvement in the slums, these volunteers lay the foundations for strong relationships between GPM volunteers and the Mumbai children. Thanks to their hard work, current volunteers are using tools created over the summer to teach English, and are further developing innovations and creative approaches to advancing literacy among the children. GPM thanks them for their dedication and commitment and wishes them great success in all their endeavors. Sara, Shayna and Leora, you will always be part of the GPM community!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Aussie article about GPM

The Australian Jewish News published a story about the origins of Gabriel Project Mumbai and what inspired Jacob to start the program:

MOVED by the poverty and injustice he witnessed on a business trip to India last year, Melbourne-born Jacob Sztokman has set up a world-first volunteering program for young Jewish adults.
Having launched this year, Gabriel Project Mumbai partners poverty relief with active partnership in the Indian Jewish community, offering 20 to 28-year-olds the chance to volunteer in Mumbai’s slums for three to four months, preparing food for children and teaching them English.
“I spoke to people living in the slums and asked questions about the challenges they are facing, and the whole experience touched me deeply,” said Sztokman, who is a sales and marketing professional.
“Children, even as young as five or six, could work on the streets and bring a couple of cents a week to the family to purchase food. If the children were in class...
Read more here: