Chabad in the NSW Parliament

August 24, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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Parliamentary Secretary David Clarke has addressed the NSW State Parliament on the subject of Chabad…its history and purpose.

David Clarke

The Hon. DAVID CLARKE (Parliamentary Secretary) [3.59 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to highlight the growing and positive outreach for good of the Jewish faith-based movement Chabad as it continues to set new heights of achievement through its programs of service to the people of New South Wales and, indeed, in many other places throughout the world. The Chabad movement is an energising outreach movement within Judaism that emphasises an understanding and observance of Judaic religious traditions that reach back thousands of years into history. Its late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994 at the age of 92, was, from all accounts, a man of great charisma and spirituality and revered by many.
A gifted writer and engaging speaker, he inspired those around him and left behind an undeniable and indelible imprint on the worldwide Chabad movement, which he led. He taught that there was no conflict between science and God because all truth emanates from God, who cannot be in conflict with Himself. He emphasised that mankind should seek godliness in their daily lives and in their dealings with each other. He pointed to the seven Noahide laws given by God to Noah as a universal moral code for all mankind. To Rabbi Schneerson our daily lives should be lived with humility, joyfulness and always with a positive approach. He encouraged those who sought his counsel to promote education and charitable and humanitarian programs as a means of practising godliness. This was the vision that he encouraged within Chabad and this was the vision that it wholeheartedly embraced in thought and in deeds. It is a vision that is alive and well today.

As part of that vision Chabad operates a worldwide network of schools and teaching institutions, including here in Sydney. It conducts a multitude of humanitarian and charitable programs and initiatives that are recognised for their effectiveness and pioneering methods. These programs and initiatives reach out not only to those within the Jewish community but also to those in the wider community regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious background. The vision of Rabbi Schneerson that inspired such initiatives also touched and inspired into action a young Chabad married couple in Sydney. Rabbi Dovid Slavin and his wife, Laya, despite a busy life which included the raising of their seven young children, had a vision to use food preparation and its charitable distribution as a means to connect with people in need of a helping hand.

In 2007 they established Our Big Kitchen, now operating as an iconic not-for-profit institution in Sydney and brought to reality in the basement of the Yeshiva Centre of the Chabad community in Bondi. They were joined by a great array of hardworking Chabad members and non-members. Almost everything was donated, not only the labour but also the equipment. Our Big Kitchen does not operate as a conventional soup kitchen where people line up to receive food donations. As Rabbi Slavin said at the beginning, “We want to give people not only meals but empower them to empower others.” That is exactly what happens at Our Big Kitchen. It is a commercial grade multipurpose facility where volunteers engage in food preparation and cooking as well as in cleaning and administration work. Meals are provided to nursing homes and food care packages are donated to the emergency health services and to our Police Force in appreciation of the work they do for the community.

Young mothers suffering postnatal depression or who feel overwhelmed receive assistance through the provision of prepared meals, as do parents who may have lost their jobs or are going through other difficulties and find themselves with their backs to the wall. Senior citizens groups and others organise cooking work days at the kitchen where they prepare meals to raise funds for a wide range of worthy causes. As a means of character formation, local school groups use the kitchen’s facilities to prepare meals for various charitable causes as well. Because the kitchen contains cooking facilities for the disabled, those with disabilities are encouraged to use such facilities as a means of therapy. Our Big Kitchen also operates a successful program of rehabilitation activities for inmates of some of our State’s correctional institutions, with some having gone on to eventual employment in the food services industry as a result of skills acquired whilst working there.

As Rabbi Slavin says, “Our Big Kitchen is there to promote character building, to foster a sense of service to the community and to get to people before they hit rock bottom.” And Rabbi Slavin leads by example. He sets an energising pace and never stops. The oversight of Our Big Kitchen is but one of his humanitarian-centred activities. He serves on the ethics committee of the Cancer Institute. He established and directs Gift of Life, a body that tests people for compatibility as potential bone marrow donors to those suffering from leukaemia. He facilitates donors to the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry run by the Red Cross.

The citizens of our State and the Parliament of New South Wales can be well proud of Our Big Kitchen and the fine work it does. The Governor of the State has praised its good work and the Governor-General of Australia has done likewise. Many members of this Parliament, including the Premier, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, have observed firsthand its good work and offered praise. I have been privileged to visit Our Big Kitchen on a number of occasions and have seen firsthand its wonderful work. It is a testament to the success of faith-based organisations in providing charitable support to the community. I pay tribute to people such as Rabbi Dovid Slavin and his wife, Laya, and to the volunteers from the Chabad movement and others who put their heart and soul into this enterprise for good. It is an honour for me to be able tonight to record in our Parliament’s Hansard this acknowledgement and thanks for the service they provide.

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