Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chief Rabbi of UK visits GPM in the slums of Mumbai

The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth , Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, visited the Kalwa slums in Mumbai India this week to observe firsthand the work of Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) with vulnerable children in education, nutrition and health. The Chief Rabbi gave lessons to the children of two classes in the slums, met with educators of REAP education network, visited a women's empowerment kitchen that produces hundreds of meals for GPM's Nutrition Program, watched a soap recycling demonstration by hygiene partner, Sundara and affixed a mezuza on the door of the newly established Shravan Health Center.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis, his wife Valerie and two of their sons at the kitchen in the slums where local women prepare meals for the children

“God has been protecting Jews for thousands of years through this little scroll,” Rabbi Mirvis told the crowd as he stood under the doorframe putting up the mezuza, a little box containing a parchment with the words of the Shema prayer on it that have been placed on Jewish homes since the time of the Exodus from Egypt over three millennia ago. “My wish is that, through this mezuzah, God will protect all the people who come through this door seeking medical care.”
Chief Rabbi Mirvis affixing the mezuzah on the entrance of the Shravan Health Center

The Shravan Health Center, which was established by GPM and Doctors for You in August 2015, serves 10,000 mothers and children in the Kalwa slum. The clinic marks the first time that the 200,000 Hindu and Muslim residents have readily available access to quality medical care. The clinic was built in memory of 11-year-old Shravan Sahu a GPM student who died of a treatable case of the flu in June 2014, because his family had no access to medical care.

“I’ve met the Queen of England,” Rabbi Mirvis told the children, ages 4-12 who sat rapt listening to his lesson. “I’ve been to palaces and castles, and even saw the Taj Mahal! But you know what is the most wonderful thing that I have seen? Its YOU!” The children – and many of the adults listening to his class – were deeply moved by his sentiment.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis talking with the children in the classrooms

“Rabbi Mirvis really gets what we are doing here,” said GPM Founding Director Jacob Sztokman. “He profoundly appreciates what it means to lift up a child’s spirit, and to impact their lives by reminding them that they matter. That is the essence of our work, and he powerfully and sincerely articulated that to the children and everyone else. When he said that the children are the most important people he has ever met, he really meant it.”

Rabbi Mirvis was born in South Africa in 1956, and served as Chief Rabbi of Ireland for ten years, and then as a congregational rabbi in London, before becoming Chief Rabbi of the U.K. in 2012. In a candid discussion at the Chabad of Mumbai on the previous Shabbat, Chief Rabbi Mirvis credits his mother, Freida, who was principal of the Athlone Teachers’ Training College during apartheid — at the time the only college for black teachers of pre-school children in South Africa- for instilling in him the importance of caring for vulnerable populations. The Chief Rabbi, spoke about his childhood under Apartheid South Africa, he watched his mother work in the black townships and that taught him the value of Jewish service among non-Jewish groups. In fact, before arriving in India with his wife Valerie and two of their children, Noam and Eitan, the Chief Rabbi had been visiting Syrian refugees in Greece.

“I have three goals in this position,” Rabbi Mirvis explained to the GPM staff and volunteers over Shabbat lunch. “The first two are obvious, but the third is not. The first goal is to educate the Jewish community. The second goal is to develop and strengthen Jewish communities. The third goal, which I have chosen to bring to this office even if it less obvious, is to reach out beyond the Jewish community and serve vulnerable populations around the world.”

Indeed, it was entirely the Chief Rabbi’s idea to visit GPM. His office contacted OLAM, an initiative designed to help advance the global Jewish service movement, global volunteering, aid and development, and OLAM directed the office to GPM. GPM also included Sundara, another OLAM coalition partner, in the Rabbi's visit to the Mumbai slums, where he observed the Sundara hygiene workshop.

The Chief Rabbi also met with the leadership of REAP, the award-winning NGO that provides classes in the slums and with whom GPM has a foundational partnership.

“Tikkun Olam, the idea that we have a responsibility to fix what is broken in this world, is a fundamentally Jewish concept,” the Chief Rabbi has said.

"The Chief Rabbi's visit to the slums in Mumbai was an act of 'chizuk'-encouragement- to all those working in community development for undeserved vulnerable groups", said Sztokman. "He brought a specific message of hope and optimism to the women and children struggling to survive in difficult conditions. We all will remember the message he gave us.'

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Chief Rabbi Mirvis and GPM director Jacob Sztokman with the mezuzah at the enterance of the Shravan Health Center

Chief Rabbi Mirvistalking with the doctors and GPM staff at the Shravan Health Center

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and family with one of the REAP classes supported by GPM

Chief Rabbi and Rebbetzin Mirvis with Jonathan Goldstein from London in the Kalwa slums

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and family and others at Sundara hygiene center in Kalva slums

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