The Chief Rabbi’s pas­sage to In­dia


CHIEF RABBI Ephraim Mirvis hopes his his­toric visit to In­dia this week will act as a cat­a­lyst for Jews to sup­port lit­er­acy and aid pro­grammes in the de­vel­op­ing world.

Dur­ing his 10-day tour of the coun­try, Rabbi Mirvis vis­ited 19 sy­n­a­gogues and met lead­ers of In­dia’s Jewish com­mu­nity.

It is thought to be the first time a Chief Rabbi of the United He­brew Con­gre­ga­tions of the Com­mon­wealth has made an of­fi­cial visit to In­dia.

Among the high­lights on his itin­er­ary was a ser­mon at the im­pos­ing Knes­set Eliyahu Syn­a­gogue in Mum­bai, a visit to see ed­u­ca­tion pro­vi­sion in a slum, and an en­counter with In­dia’s lead­ing mo­hel.

Speak­ing tot he JC from Cochin, on the coun­try’s south-west coast, on Tues­day, Rabbi Mirvis said the trip had shown him the strength of Jewish pride in the most pop­u­lous Com­mon­wealth coun­try un­der his Chief Rab­binate.

He ex­plained: “The In­dian com­mu­nity is not as ac­tive as it once was, but there are around 5,000 peo­ple here who iden­tify as Jewish.

“I have come across some re­mark­able peo­ple who have trained specif­i­cally to run and lead shul ser­vices or to main­tain build­ings. I met the mo­hel of Mum­bai who has just done his 997th bris and is look­ing for­ward to num­ber 1,000. It’s amaz­ing and that’s the best sign of a vi­tal and liv­ing Jewish com­mu­nity.

“The Knes­set Eliyahu Syn­a­gogue was amaz­ing, filled to ca­pac­ity, charged with a huge amount of ex­cite­ment and en­ergy, and I just loved en­gag­ing with peo­ple.”

Rabbi Mirvis said the In­dian com­mu­nity was fac­ing a chal­lenge “not un­com­mon in some parts of the Jewish world — how to man­age de­cline in num­bers”.

Around 100,000 In­dian Jews have moved to Is­rael, and there are large In­dian Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in cities in­clud­ing Lon­don and Sydney.

“The peo­ple here feel that ab­sence of those who have made aliyah or moved abroad,” Rabbi Mirvis said. “It’s a ques­tion of how to man­age build­ings and sites and keep ser­vices go­ing. In many places they are do­ing it im­pres­sively.”

Rabbi Mirvis be­gan hi s 10,000-mile round-trip in New Delhi, where he met the in­com­ing In­dian High Com­mis­sioner to the UK Navtej Sarna, who is also the for­mer In­dian am­bas­sador to Is­rael.

From there, he flew to Cal­cutta, where he trav­elled to the sub­urb of Bo­ral to visit an or­phan­age run by the Eco­nomic Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment So­ci­ety, a lo­cal NGO funded by Jewish char­i­ties Tzedek and Cal­cutta Hope.

The chil­dren greeted Rabbi Mirvi sand his wife with bou­quets of flow­ers, which they had been taught to put to­gether in time for his visit.

The chil­dren bom­barded the Chief Rabbi with ques­tions. “What is your im­pres­sion of In­dia?” asked one lit­tle girl. “Thank you so much for your ex­cel­lent ques­tion… The best part of In­dia is the peo­ple and you are won­der­ful,” he replied.

One boy asked what Rabbi Mirvis would say if In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi called him to ask his ad­vice on erad­i­cat­ing poverty. In re­sponse, he said that so­lu­tion to the prob­lem re­volved around the let­ter “E” — ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment.

In Mum­bai, one of the Chief Rabbi’s first stops was the Knes­set Eliyahu Syn­a­gogue, where 200 peo­ple turned out to hear him speak.

He told them: “In­dia has been good for the Jews and the Jews for In­dia. You are in­cred­i­ble peo­ple. As I have un­der­stood, Eliyahu Hanavi is spe­cial for the Ben Is­rael com­mu­nity, and the prophet is also known as the sym­bol of the fu­ture. It gives us good hope for the fu­ture.”

Rabbi Mirvis also vis­ited Kavla, a Mum­bai slum where Jewish char­ity the Gabriel Project pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion and pri­mary health care to res­i­dents.

Speak­ing about the trip from Cochin, the last city on his itin­er­ary, Rabbi Mirvis said:

The Chief and his wife on a visit to the Gabriel Project in Mum­bai “We drew an enor­mous amount of pride in see­ing what Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions are do­ing in In­dia. “To ar­rive in the midst of squalor and poverty at a depth that you just can’t really ex­plain in words, and to see a man with a kip­pah who is work­ing there, and in­cred­i­ble pro­grammes which teach lit­er­acy and train peo­ple to be­come em­ployed and to go out and be re­spon­si­ble to their fam­i­lies and so­ci­ety, and it’s hap­pen­ing on a mass-scale, is so deeply im­pres­sive.”

Rabbi Mirvis said that while he was proud of the ef­forts of Bri­tish Jews to help those suf­fer­ing around the world, he would con­tinue to urge the com­mu­nity to do more.

“I’m par­tic­u­larly fo­cus­ing on what I call ‘read and feed’, two pri­mary ar­eas. We need peo­ple to be lit­er­ate and self­suf­fi­cient and, as the re­sult, they will have the means to earn a liv­ing and look af­ter them­selves and their fam­i­lies.”

Rabbi Mirvis trav­elled to In­dia with his wife, Va­lerie, and two of their sons.

The best part of In­dia is the peo­ple and you are won­der­ful’


Rabbi Mirvis ad­dress­ing the Knes­set Eliyahu shul in Mum­bai

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