Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has told Jews on the sub-continent that he will help in the battle against hunger, illiteracy and unemployment.
Mirvis said more needed to be done while touring slums and projects in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, during his ten-day visit to India this week, saying he feels “the pain and suffering of the poor”.
Accompanied by his family, the chief rabbi saw first-hand the work of Economic Rural Development Society, which is supported by Tzedek and Calcutta Hope, two Jewish organisations dedicated to tackling poverty. Initiatives include helping orphans earn a living from selling flowers at the local market, or helping them set up businesses repairing mobile phones.
“Although [we are] Jewish organisations, we are working for the betterment of the poor people of other religions,” said Calcutta Hope director Steven Darby. “We are supporting children of Hindu, Muslim and Christian backgrounds. This is our duty.”
Mirvis praised Indian premier Narendra Modi, but said: “I want the process to overcome the problem… There are 1.26 billion people in the country and poverty is widespread… We cannot wait.”
Prior to the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, there were more than 30,000 Jews in India, but now only about 5,000 remain, according to Ralphy Jhirad of International Visitor Centre. In Kolkata, there were little more than 20 Jewish families left, he said, with many returning to the bigger cities.
The Chief Rabbi also visited Magen David Synagogue, one of two operating shuls catering to a small and diminishing Jewish population.
“It was an amazing experience, in service with chief rabbi” said Jael Silliman, a resident. “The service is only held if ten people join, but [owing to] lack of strength, synagogue services are almost stopped. But we are happy that, after two years, 15 people from our community joined the service”
Ephraim Mirvis will meet members of Jewish communities in Mumbai, Delhi Cochin during his 10 days visit to India.