Soup, Soul and Community

At last week’s Soup, Sandwiches and a Chat meal, the project of our Darchei Shalom (Social Action) Group, there were about 40 residents of the Inkerman Road Council apartments (more than half were Jewish including one Chareidi man; most are of Russian extraction). There were also half a dozen of our volunteers. I came in while the residents were having dessert after enjoying soup and toasted sandwiches.

The atmosphere was relaxed, warm and friendly: a real sense of community and camaraderie. At each table about 6 residents were sitting around, eating and chatting and very happy to engage with me as I walked around. They were even more keen to tell me how grateful they were for our weekly service.

One of the Russian women (whom I conversed with in Hebrew) said to me: “I hope you realize what a mitzvah you are doing. If not for this, we would be sitting alone in our flats. This brings us out at least once a week and we get to talk and check up on one another and to also meet some new people. And your volunteers are all so warm, generous and friendly to us.”

I left the dining room convinced that Darchei Shalom is doing what we had set it up to do, namely: to reach out beyond our shule to those in need, be it physical, emotional or social, Secondly, it’s a recognition that as a community we should engage in acts of Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam: charity and improving our society. Judaism may be an exclusive kind of club but it has an inclusive and global message and aspirations. Thirdly, it’s a humbling reminder that just down the road from our comfortable homes there are people (including fellow Jews) living with so much less. Finally, I was “blown away” by our team of volunteers – both from our shule and from other parts of the Jewish community – for their time, generosity and spirit!

The costs of this program have been raised by the hard working Darchei Shalom Committee which has been led by the indefatigable Mim Weisz. They have enlisted the support of Coles (who provide the vegetables every week) Glicks (who provide the weekly bread), and the local Port Philip Council, and they are not afraid to open their own pockets.

Recently Darchei Shalom was approached by the Leo and Mina Fink Fund who had heard about this program (through the Hineni youth group) and were interested in contributing to the program. It fits their mandate of supporting the welfare of Victorians and they were immensely impressed by its efficient and spirited organisation. They have already made an initial donation. Darchei Shalom has also been approached by other Councils to set up similar programs.

It was gratifying to hear that this “shidduch” was made through our youth movement, Hineni as it reflects the ethos of our shule: to engage young and old in all that we do. Hineni not only run their own children’s educational and social programs with the support and endorsement of Caulfield Shule, they also participate in our shule events like Friday night services, Chagim, Shmoozeday, Mitzvah Day, Shofar in the Park and the Soup, Sandwiches and a Chat program. Incidentally the Fink Fund also made a contribution towards Hineni.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has remarked that Judaism “embodies and exemplifies the necessary tension between the universal and the unique”, He points out that if there were only universals, the world would consist only of empires claiming the totality of truth since there is only one truth, and if you have it, then others do not. On the other hand if there are only particulars – a multiplicity of cultures and ethnicities – with no universal moral codes then there would be a ceaseless proliferation of warring tribes.

We live today with violent terrorists who seek to impose their universal truth, their caliphates on us all. We live today with ethnic conflicts tearing nations apart. Judaism has always tried to avoid these two extremes, to be neither an empire nor a tribe. Our destiny has been to create a society which recognises our uniqueness and our responsibility to others outside of our group.

In its own very small and modest way, Darchei Shalom is a reflection of this ethos. Its base is our shule, a unique and particular centre of Jewish prayer, learning and community. Its reach is our wider community – Jewish and non-Jewish – we strive to love and connect to our Jewish neighbours in the shtetl of Caulfield. We also strive to communicate with the stranger on the borders of the bagel belt and beyond…

Sacks puts it in his inimitable way that the Hebrew Bible is a book suffused with love – the love of God for humanity and the love of people for God.

Let’s always work to fulfil the Abrahamic covenant of our people to be strong in our Jewishness and potent in our humanity.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.