Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet the Rabbi who joined Gabriel Project Mumbai

The summer 2014 cohort of international GPM volunteers marked a particular milestone for GPM: It was the first time an Orthodox rabbi participated in the GPM program.

Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, a Monsey-New York-born recent graduate of the Yeshiva University Rabbinical School and the youth director for the Young Israel of Stamford, brings with him a unique world view and unusual family background.  His mother, an African-American convert to Judaism, and his father, a Lubavitch-Chabad Chassid, instilled in him values from the Civil Rights movement, and a love for diversity. With extended family members who are Muslims, Methodists and Buddhists, Isaiah is a strong leader and Jew charged with the mission of educating and empowering the next generation of leadership. Isaiah is also a singer-song- writer and has his Masters in Social Work, and is set to join the team of educators at Carmel Academy and to infusing spirituality into every interaction.

GPM founding director Jacob Sztokman interviewed Isaiah to learn about what motives him and what he plans to do with his GPM experience:

Jacob: What made you decide to become a rabbi?
 Kol Haolam Kulo in Hindi
'Kol Haolam Kulo' in Hindi with Isaiah on guitar

Isaiah: I believe very strongly in the Jewish mission, and I think that there’s been a lot of miscommunications, lost in translation. I want to be help the next generation see how relevant Torah and Judaism are. I also love seeing people on fire, alive and spiritual and conscious. I want to be part of making that happen.

Jacob: What did your friends from school say when you told them that you’re on your way to India?

Rabbi Isaiah (left) with his guitar playing music for the children
Isaiah: Many were intrigued because they are not doing anything like this. Most are doing programs in America, like summer camps or even special needs’ programs. Some do travel, but mostly to Israel and now so much India. When I would tell people that the program is connected to JDC India, maybe people were like, there are Jews in India? So that was interesting.

Jacob: What have you learned from being here that you would want to share with your rabbi colleagues?

Isaiah: It’s about understanding the issues that we talk about. When we say “poverty”, what are we really saying? When we say “justice” what are we really saying? Also being able to think beyond the Jewish experience. Who are we including when we talk about the issues that are important to us? And also that we have a very big responsibility beyond just the Jewish community. “Kol yisrael arevim ze laze” – the idea that Jews are all responsible for one another – is a very beautiful concept. But there’s something beyond that, about how we interact with the “outside” world as well.  So being for your fellow Jew also means being for the rest of the world, and that’s inherent in Jewish values. I want people to be open to the strength of Judaism, that it’s not just about Jews but also about our relationships with people of other nations. We who follow the Torah have the responsibility to model that and show that to the rest of the world.

Jacob: What did you learn about Indian culture from being here?

Isaiah: People who live in difficult circumstances, if they become angry or violent, you can sort of understand that. But here in India, you don’t find that at all. You meet people who have very difficult lives but greet you with gratitude for being there, with joy and happiness and love. You smile at them and they smile at you. It’s beautiful. And the fact that there is such an incredible level of resilience, that is very inspiring. It makes me think about how I act as an American and the culture that I live in. America’s quick pace makes living and life and the emotional life much more stressful and people don’t necessarily connect, even though they have everything. Here, you can connect with people in a very wholesome way, people who don’t have everything but just easily talk to you and share with you and connect. That left a very strong impression on me.

Also, just the thought about being able to be the group of people who are coming to offer support and food, and trying to offer them tools, whether educational or emotional, to be that person who is in that role of the person who is offering something, when you enter that classroom and you see their faces light up, and you realize that you are in that role of bringing them something that they want and enjoy, that’s really awesome.

Would you like to volunteer in India with GPM? Click here to find out how

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