Archives for January 2015

ATZUM’s Activist Beit Midrash TAKUM Reaches Mumbai

Learning Torah; backdrop, the slums of Mumbai

Udaipur, India December 2014
Rose Pollard, GPM JDC Entwine Fall 2014 Fellow

For the past 2 months, I spent my time teaching informal education classes in a slum called Kalwa, just outside of Mumbai. As I taught, sang, and laughed in the tin-hut classrooms with my students, their eagerness and earnest expressions brought me moments of pure fulfillment. The kids’ integrity, cooperation, and joy was humbling, given the conditions of the slum around them. The images I saw every day walking to class still stick with me – naked children scampering across trash piles, pigs, goats and chickens running rampant, and families of 10 living in single, tiny rooms. It was hard to filter the difference between the comforts I am used to and the reality for those in the slums of Mumbai.

rose_takumThe organization I worked with, Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM), helped me process the contrast. GPM organized Jewish learning classes on social justice with TAKUM led by Shoshana Cohen and Rabbi Levi Lauer. Taking time to learn Torah allowed my cohort and me to take a step back from the overwhelming images and experience in Kalwa. The learning urged us to question the big picture and ask: Why are we here again? What influences brought us to India in the first place, and why is being here important?

As soon as we started reading Torah with Shoshana, I smiled, comforted by the sounds of Hebrew and the transition to analytical thought. We discussed the power of creation – in its definition, in G-d, in ourselves and in every human being. It reminded me of the power I hold as a teacher to shape each lesson and affect a child’s life. Shoshana also urged us to share what made us decide to work with GPM, reconnecting us with what we wanted to get out of the experience. 

Our time with Rabbi Lauer combined the theories of spiritual ideas to our physical work in the slums and vulnerable children with vital significance. He led us through thoughts of leadership, justice, and motivation. One concept he spoke of was the necessity to “pursue meaning, instead of comfort.” I have since considered this idea many times, asking myself:  how can I push the boundaries of discomfort to pursue growth – both in the communities I touch and myself? Rabbi Lauer’s session revealed that this question has been asked for eons, and the struggle of finding and pursuing meaning is everywhere in Jewish text.

newsletter pic takumThe sessions allowed my fellow volunteers and me to connect on a deeper level. As my new friends piped up around me, engaging and offering insightful thoughts, I felt a new appreciation for each of them. After spending so much time living, planning, and joking with one another, we were suddenly relating in a new way. Bouncing off one idea to another, we were able to appreciate each other intellectually, which for me added a meaningful layer to our cohort.

The discussions were invigorating and I left each session with new energy to bring to the classroom. I gained perspective on the discomforts and contrast in the slum– urging me to seek the meaning beyond it. From the steadfast sense of community to the boundless happiness of my students, there is so much to learn from those in Kalwa. I have Rabbi Lauer and Shoshana to thank for helping me to seek this meaning and allowing it to bring profound personal growth to my time with GPM.  


Rabbi Levi Lauer to Present at Jewish Women’s Foundation of Palm Beach

JWF - Feb 2015 Florida conference with LL-resized

Recognizing Righteous Rescuer Jaroslawa and ATZUM volunteer Katya

“Righteous Among the Nations” is official terminology to identify those, who, at great risk to themselves, protected and helped save Jewish life during the Shoah. RAN (Righteous Among the Nations), a direct service initiative established by ATZUM, has ensured for the past 12 years that every Righteous Rescuer living in Israel receives support not provided through Bituah Leumi (Israel’s National Insurance Institute) or other public or private resources, making certain that these heroes among us feel appreciated. Here is the story of one Righteous Rescuer and the ATZUM volunteer who has become her long-time companion.

Katya1Jaroslawa’s Story:  When the Ukrainian town of Zloczow was occupied by Germany in July, 1941, its Jewish citizens were subjected to horrific restrictions and suffering. Aleksander Lewicki surreptitiously began to supply his Jewish neighbors with basic supplies, medicine, and shelter. Aleksander’s bravery was matched by that of his courageous daughter, Katarzyna, and granddaughter, Jaroslawa, whose youth allowed them to act as his couriers without awakening the suspicion of the Ukrainian guards.

The three continued their clandestine efforts until the murder of 6,000 Zloczow Jews by the Germans and Ukrainian nationalists in April, 1943. Among the few survivors were two Jewish girls whom the Lewickis protected until July, 1944, when the area was liberated. The Lewickis also fed 25 other Jews hiding in the basement of a ruined house two kilometers away, despite the distance and great danger. On September 21, 1989, Yad Vashem recognized Aleksander, Katarzyna, and Jaroslawa Lewicki as Righteous Among the Nations.

In Israel, Finally: Jaroslawa, who stayed in Ukraine after the war, faced increasingly bleak social and economic conditions. She visited Israel in 1995 at the invitation of one of the people she had saved, and decided stay and accept Israeli citizenship, settling in Haifa. While some Righteous Rescuers came to Israel soon after Statehood, learned Hebrew, and integrated fairly well into society, others, especially the later arrivals like Jaroslawa, have struggled, their strongest connection to Jews remaining their wartime acts of heroism.

Jaroslawa, now 79, lives alone in a hostel for the elderly. In the words of RAN program coordinator, Levana Dorum: “Jaroslawa a remarkable woman, once told me that there was nothing left in her life except loneliness. All those who mattered to her have passed away, including her closest friend in Israel, one of the many men she saved. She is Christian, which often complicates her life in the hostel where all other residents are Jewish and fluent Hebrew speakers.”

Earlier this year, ATZUM arranged for a Russian-speaking chaplain to visit Jaroslawa to provide much needed spiritual and emotional care. However, it is Katya, a young Israeli Ukranian and Russian-speaking student who has been her steady anchor. This wonderfully dedicated ATZUM volunteer has visited Jaroslawa weekly since making aliyah as a teenager from Belarus in 2006.

ATZUM encourages and offers opportunities for Israeli youth to volunteer time and energy with the dwindling community of Righteous Rescuers in Israel. That Katya and Jaroslawa’s connection has endured so many years, during which Katya completed her army service and B.A, studies and is now pursuing a graduate degree in special education, is remarkably inspiring.

In describing her visits with Jaroslawa, Katya notes that, “Over time, our meetings have become less my giving to her and more our giving to one another. Our talks have become more open, full of emotional sharing. Far from growing apart, we continue to grow closer.Jaroslava is a remarkable woman I am privileged to know. She is a treasured part of my life; her company fills my grandmother’s place and gives me so very much.

ATZUM is privileged to recognize Jaroslawa for her bravery, and Katya for honoring the humanity of all Righteous Rescuers.