Sunday, October 28, 2012

Help where help is needed

From Simon Avrutis GPM volunteer, Fall 2012:

Today I am going to take a more serious tone with my writing. I know you guys are used to me making fun of myself, but today will be a little different so prepare yourselves!

As many of you know Daniella and I are in Thane helping out in the slums of Kalva through the Gabriel Project Mumbai. Here is a link with the info and donation page if you are interested:

I want to make a point here that the response so far has been fantastic. A lot friends and family have helped out selflessly, despite the fact that it does not directly affect them. I mean, why give $50 to help some unfortunate soul half way across the world? What difference does it make?

I have spent a while thinking about this and have actually borrowed the answer from a friend. He states: “We are very fortunate to have what we have. Who knows? There might be some kids there who could be great politicians, musicians, sportsmen, engineers etc. Help kindle this flame”

And that is exactly it. We are very fortunate to have what we have. I am so lucky that i was born in Australia, that I was sent to a private school and had a great education.
I was lucky that potential was given to me on a plate. Yes i have to work and commit myself to achieve anything great in this world, but at least I have a chance. I have a chance to be whatever and who ever I want.

But these kids don’t. Not even the kids, but anyone confined to a life in slums is pretty much option-less. What hope do they have of achieving great things? Some of these kids are so bright, I can’t help to think that if they were in my position they would be much brighter and much more successful then I am. The only difference is that they lost the draw of life and ended up in the slums.

Yes, I and many people reading this blog are fortunate; maybe not as fortunate as our neighbors but definitely more lucky then the people in the slums. The way I see it is that we owe the world. We owe humanity for our good fortune. And when an opportunity arises to help another in need, we damn well better take that opportunity and pay what we owe. I owe it to the world, you owe it the world, we ALL owe it to the world to help those in need any way we can. That does not mean “donate now to this cause or you are a bad person”. It means that I firmly believe that we should help our fellow man in some way. Jew, Hindu or Muslim, it does not matter. A man in need is a man who deserves ours help.

Sometimes that may be a 10,000 dollar donation to a hospital, other times it may mean buying a meal for the homeless. In my case, right here right now it means bringing awareness to the dire situation in the slums of India and offering people an opportunity to help out.

Nothing makes me more proud of my friends and family when I hear acts of utter selflessness, when they put their money where their mouth is and help a complete random just because it is needed. At the same time nothing upsets me more when instead of selflessness I see greed and ignorance. 

You see, in my eyes, a small donation leads to bigger things. If we can lead by example and show people the better moral ground, then hopefully they follow. Hopefully the next time they see a cause or a man in need they take the initiative and help out.

Again, I am not saying that people who do not donate have poor morals. Rather, I am stating that if they have not been involved with a charity or have not had the opportunity to help out, donating even a little bit is a stepping stone to a solid moral future.  This leads me to the “maybe” people. This is going to a long rant I can tell, but I have not met a more unproductive group of people in my life. 

It absolutely befuddles me why a maybe option even exists on Facebook. Especially when it comes to the donation page we put up. What exactly are people ‘maybying’ about? Either help out or don’t. There is no judgment here. If you already help out other causes or cannot afford to help here then don’t…. it is absolutely ok- even if you just don’t want to, that is fine!! If you are thinking about helping out but are just sitting on the side line waiting for G-d knows what, then, just do it. Are we saying that maybe these people are in need of our help? Are we saying that maybe it is a good thing to donate to? What is this indecisive crap…

Maybe I am missing the point here, maybe not. G-d I hate ‘maybe’. Is it a form of procrastination or are you waiting for the situation to get worse? Does it make people feel good that maybe they are thinking about donating? Unbelievable…

If I offend someone, well sorry, I don’t mean to offend people… but please give me a reason as to why ‘maybe’ is an OK option? I do not understand. What are we waiting for?

So back to the slums… If there is one thing I can take home from helping out here it is this:

The world is not a fair place… In fact, I absolutely believe I have been super fortunate in my life, I have been given things others here just dream of.

But that does not make the world a bad place either. I believe in the exact opposite. The world is a beautiful place; a place of love, opportunity, help and compassion. But it is up to us. It is up to you and me to make this world a better place. We owe it to each other to make this unfair world a beautiful world.

So the next time you see some lady on the street begging for money, give her a buck or two, better yet buy her some food. The next time you see a homeless man jacketless on a cold winter night - give him your jacket (not that I have ever done that but it sounds good). The next time you skip a night out and save $50 - donate it to charity.

The next time you see someone helping out with a cause or a charity, congratulate them on their efforts and hope that others follow in their example. The next time your friend is financial need, help him out, its only money. The next time you see someone in need. Stop for a second, don’t judge, and don’t take pity, just think how can I help and I guarantee that you can.

The world is what we make of it… If we are not making it better then what are you doing?
I leave you with this quote:

“Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.” (Voltaire) 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Avinu Malkeinu

This Yom Kippur, the liturgy of the holiest day of the Jewish Year had special and profound meaning to me.  Every year we ask forgiveness of our sins from God. Among many of the prayers, we read the ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ (Our Father, our King) prayer. The congregation stands before the open ark and we beg for forgiveness, we beg for G-d’s compassion, the end of pestilence, war and hate. The prayer is deep, reflective and primal. The tunes we use and the lyrics we read are primal, ancient and heartfelt. But along with our heartfelt spiritual cry to God, there is one request that always seemed to me to be commonplace and mundane.

The verse, “Our Father, our King seal us in the book of livelihood and fiscal well-being” always seemed a little bit trivial. It felt like the members of the congregation were asking for a good source of income, a good job. We were all dressed in nice formal clothes asking the Almighty for the ability to buy more good clothes, trips overseas and fancier homes. For years I was upset that this overall meaningful prayer beseeching God for the welfare of humanity was tainted with a request for a good job.

This year, this verse feels like the most important one to me in the entire Avinu Malkeinu prayer. Over the last several months I have been fortunate to be involved with an organization that alleviates hunger for hundreds of children in the slums of Mumbai. Gabriel Project Mumbai is a Jewish initiative that provides a daily nutritious meal (and literacy) to school children living in the slums. Volunteering in the slums you observe crippling hunger, malnutrition and ill health. You see families struggling every day to earn a few cents to buy food to eat. You see men and women, parents of small children starting their day searching for work, not knowing if they will return to their 5 ft x 5ft corrugated metal hut (with no electricity and no water) with any food for their hungry families. Children often come to class on Monday without eating anything since the end of the previous week!

 We know that many of the children aged 4-14, if not attending class and receiving a daily meal, will be on the streets working in terrible menial jobs. We also know that without a basic education and being illiterate a child’s future will be much the same as the illiterate uneducated men and women in the slums…In simple terms, these men and women were children themselves who were forced to work as children and forfeited an education to live in abject poverty.

I can’t think of a more difficult situation to be in for parents who look lovingly at heir beautiful children and know that they are malnourished and in poor health. It must be incredibly frustrating to seek work and be unable to find any or to work hard but not make enough money to support your family. It must be heart wrenching not knowing if you are able to feed your children and that that fact may never change.

“Avinu Malkeinu seal us in the book of livelihood and fiscal well-being”. What an incredibly powerful prayer. I wish that all mankind will be placed in the book of livelihood this year!