Wednesday, November 26, 2014

That time when Thanksgiving came to the slums of Mumbai

This week for the first time in their lives, the children in the slums of Mumbai learned what a turkey is.
GPM volunteers and staff introduced the children to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, offering a special lesson comparing it to the recent Indian festival of Dawali. The classes discussed the histories that formed each holiday – gratitude for bounty among the Americans and gratitude for light over darkness for the Indians – and then explored some of the traditions of each. When the teachers explained that Americans have the custom of eating turkey on Thanksgiving, the children were perplexed. “What is a turkey?” they asked.
“Well,” GPM Haley Dsouza Educational Director said, “it’s like a very big chicken.” The children were amazed. “Think of it like four or five chickens stuck together,” she added, and the children burst out in

The lesson was part of the informal education program that GPM brings to children studying in the REAP schools in the slums of Mumbai. GPM volunteers teach the children, ages 4-14, subjects such as astronomy, geography, hygiene, English, and more. In a program on life-skills, the volunteers have recently taught classes on a variety of topics such as inventions, body language, and telling time. “We learned about inventions like old telephones, telescopes, and The Wright Brothers,” Haley said. The children also play games and learn songs, which help them with English language acquisition.

 “The children learn so much from the volunteers,” Haley said. “So do I,” she added with a smile.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cleaning up the Jewish Cemetery in Mumbai-connection with the past; commitment to the future

Working together to clean the cemetery
The Jewish Cemetery of the Worli Bene Israel Jewish Community in Mumbai received some unexpected visitors last week: The volunteers of Gabriel Project Mumbai (GMP).

Several dozen volunteers, including GPM-JDC Entwine international volunteers, representatives of the Indian Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP) and members of the local Jewish community spent the morning last Sunday cleaning up the Jewish cemetery. Braving the mid-morning Mumbai heat, they spent hours clearing away vegetation, garbage and rubble from the centuries’ old Jewish cemetery that is in disrepair.

A group picture of the international and local volunteers
The activity was coordinated by Herzel Simon head of The Jewish Cemeteries Trust, India, Salome Abraham of JDC India and Sigalith Isaac Kurulkar of GPM. 

“It was so moving to see Jewish Peoplehood in action - different generations of Indian Jews, international Jews and others join hands in respecting and honoring our ancestors,” said Sigalith Isaac Kurulkar.  

Clearing away debris
“Indian Jews are a religious minority of India and one of the first foreign religions to have arrived here. The Bene Israel are a historic community of Jews in India who have migrated from villages in the Konkan area, where they lived for two thousand years,  to the nearby cities like Mumbai. In Mumbai, their history dates back to the 18th century when the first member of the Bene Israel community arrived,” Mr. Simon explained.  A cemetery for Bene Israelis is on E Moses Road with the first grave dating back to 1927. The cemetery has graves of several famous Jews including Bollywood choreographer Herman Ezra Kolarkar, Dr. E Moses the ex. Mayor of Mumbai, architect Simon Reuben of the Jehangir Art Gallery, film historian Bunny Reuben and Judah Reuben Nowgaonkar, the first umpire of a Test match between India and England,  amongst others. Till date 6555 burials have taken place at this cemetery.”

Removing weeds covering the graves
This was the first time the community has come together and physically helped clean the cemetery! 

The cemetery was in disrepair, with garbage seeping in, broken walkways, old drainage lines, and more. The volunteers helped with cleaning weeds from around and on the graves, on the pathways and the fence. The Jewish Cemeteries Trust previously repaired one wall, and added a grill to stop the garbage, tiled the walkways, added three water tanks, drainage line, and more. 

Half of the cost of the cemetery clean-up was covered by donations from a cemetery fundraiser that took place in August this year, and the rest came from the cemetery reserve fund. “We now need to raise money to cover the upkeep of the cemetery,” Mr. Simon added. 
JDC fellow Kimberly, leading a session after the clean-up

Following the clean-up, JDC Fellow Kimberly  conducted a though-provoking session on the meaning of working in the cemetery, responsibility to the past and how it effects our future. 

To make an online donation to the repair and restoration of this and other Jewish cemeteries in India via The Jewish Cemeteries Trust, India, please press HERE, 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

TAKUM classes on Jewish social justice for GPM volunteers

GPM has introduced an exciting new learning component to the volunteer program in collaboration with the internationally renowned Jewish social justice organization TAKUM. Teachers from TAKUM, the learning center founded by Rabbi Levi Lauer and the ATZUM organization, dedicated to bringing classic and contemporary Jewish texts to the grounds of social activism and social activism to the beit midrash, have begun a course that explores social justice in biblical and classic hassidic texts. The GPM volunteers are studying a wide range of Jewish texts with world-renowned Jewish teachers of TAKUM who communicate from around the world via group Skype sessions. This cohort of volunteers is the first GPM group to benefit from the new collaboration with Takum.

GPM volunteers discussing Jewish aspects of social justice -- "tikkun olam" -- following a TAKUM class.
"The speaker tonight was wonderful!" wrote GPM volunteer Leyla Sandler following the first class. "I really enjoyed him, the way he presented, and his motivations. He was quite inspirational". 

“It was truly inspiring to teach the GPM volunteers, who brought extraordinary depth of thought to our session", remarked Rabbi Levi Lauer after one class. "Their engagement with the texts learned brought Mumbai and Yerushalayim far closer than one would imagine Skype might bridge. It was a privilege to be even smallest part of their work moving Torah to the streets of urgent human need.”

"The rabbi was incredibly insightful and reflective," added GPM volunteer Debra Feinberg. "I'm looking forward to learning with him again." 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

GPM comes to Limmud India

GPM founding director Jacob Sztokman gave a riveting talk at the second annual Limmud India. His talk, which focused on social activism with vulnerable populations as a core Jewish value, generated lively discussions among participants. GPM volunteers attended the Jewish conference – a model of Jewish learning that takes place in dozens of communities around the world – and particularly enjoyed classes such as Indian Jewish history, explorations in community-development, insights from the deputy Israeli ambassador to India, Jewish yoga, and even Israeli belly dancing.

"Who would have ever thought that of all places in the world, India would be the place where I most get in touch with my Jewish identity!" said GPM volunteer Debra Feinberg. "Life is full of surprises."

Some GPM fellows with newly made friends at Limmud India
Nissim Pingle, head of the JCC Mumbai makes the opening remarks
Shayna Penkar, an award wining belly-dancer teaches the group to move at Limmud India 2014
Relaxing between sessions at Limmud
Jacob Sztokman talking about Tikkun Olam
Indian yoga with a Jewish flavor at Limmud India
Sharon Galsulkar teaching about what does it mean to be the chosen people?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Welcome new cohort of GPM-Entwine fellows!

The newest cohort of GPM-JDC Entwine international volunteers arrived in Mumbai and are already enthusiastically working in the slums. After a week of orientation, in which they received targeted teacher-training, took classes in conversational Hindi and Indian culture, experienced a Hindu Ashram, visited Dharavi (the largest slum in India) and toured Mumbai, the group of six young Jewish adults were invigorated and ready to start their work. They have begun volunteering with classes of children ages 5-14 studying in the REAP classes in the Kalwa slum.

The group, the 11th cohort of GPM international volunteers, includes young adults from all different backgrounds – five Americans and one Australian, a violinist, a Teach for America graduate, a social worker, a real estate specialist, and more – who share joy and zeal in participating in the GPM volunteer program.
The 11th GPM cohort of volunteers arrives in Mumbai

Elana Winchester, a member of the newest cohort of GPM volunteers, teaches "time" to the children in the Mumbai slums

GPM volunteers working with women's empowerment groups in the Mumbai slums, preparing hot lunches for the children in the REAP school

Leila Sandler, a new GPM volunteer, working on literacy with the children

GPM volunteer Adam Davis teaching numbers to the children in the slums
The international volunteer program, which is eight weeks long, also includes enrichment programs such as trips to the Konkan coast, collaborative work with Indian Jewish interns, and opportunities to volunteer with the Jewish community. During the program, the group will be working with young Indian Jews to clean up the Bnei Israel cemetery, volunteering in a children’s hospital, visiting the JDC old-age home Bayiti for Indian Jews, studying issues of Jewish social justice with the world-renowned Takum organization, and participating in dynamic Jewish peoplehood workshops called the “Chai-time Talks” (see clip of previous Chai-time Talks HERE.)