Posts tagged #Tikkun Olam

Open letter to the Shira community

An Open Letter to the Shira Community from Dr. Naor Bar-Zeev and Sarah Lodge Bar-Zeev:

We arrived in Malawi in January 2011.  

Naor works as a paediatrician in infectious diseases at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, and as an epidemiologist coordinating large research projects relating to the introduction of 2 new vaccines, one against the bacteria that causes pneumonia and blood and brain infection, and the other against the virus that causes severe diarrhoea. These two organisms are responsible for more deaths in children under 5 than malaria, HIV and all other causes combined. 

Sarah works as a midwife at the hospital, and is coordinating the implementation of sustainable evidence based interventions that are known to reduce maternal death and disease at health centres throughout the country for the Ministry of Health. Malawi has among the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. 

The Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital serves a population of about 1 million people in the southern region of Malawi. Malawi is among the poorest countries in Africa. 

The Department of paediatrics sees about 90,000 children a year, of whom about a third are admitted to hospital (last year over 31,500 admissions). On an average day there are 350 children (squeezed into 280 physical beds), and in the rainy season when malaria and diarrhoea are high, there are 450 children a day. (For comparison the new Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne has a maximum capacity of 357 beds.)  

There is a team of 8 consultant paediatricians (3 foreign including Naor, and 5 Malawian), 5 paediatric junior trainees. There are very few government funded nurses. It is only through charitable donations that the paediatric department employs 15 nurses, 2 clinical officers (who work like junior doctors do in Australia), 5 homecraft workers and 8 cleaners. All of them are pensioned and remunerated fairly. 

This equates to a nurse to patient ratio of 30. (In Australia the nursing industry standard is 1 to 4.) Due to extensive efforts at improving hospital care for children, the in-hospital mortality for children has declined from over 20% some 10 years ago to now 2.5%. Very high mortality rates are still seen among premature or sick newborns, and among children with severe malnutrition and those with HIV infection.

A long queue of mothers and children waiting to be triaged in the paediatric emergency department. In the background are the doors to the resuscitation rooms where urgent cases are seen immediately. 

A child with diarrhoea is assessed in emergency by a paediatric trainee. On the wall are clinical guidelines and other job aids.

A child with cardiac disease is reviewed. Most cardiac disease in developing countries is not congenital but rather acquired from rheumatic fever – an infectious disease, a condition also seen very commonly among Indigenous children in Australia. It is associated with poverty. With good preventive interventions the cardiac consequences can be avoided.

This infant has severe pneumonia. He is being supported by special nasal prongs that deliver oxygen under pressure. This Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine was built locally using a fishtank-type air pump to bubble gas through a column of water under pressure, nicknamed “Bubble CPAP” – a sustainable and easy to fix technology which is life-saving. Similar but more expensive systems to provide CPAP are in use globally. Mortality from severe pneumonia has declined since the introduction of the CPAP machines. We have 3 available. The baby in the photo did well and was discharged.  

Children in the oncology ward play in a small courtyard. They have Burkitt’s lymphoma, a blood disorder common in Africa which leads to tumours that can lead to facial deformity. Our paediatric oncology service has survival rates that are high compared to many developing countries. We cannot give very aggressive chemotherapy, because we do not have the capacity to support children through the difficult and often life-threatening side effects that strong chemotherapy requires. 

Families enjoy the weather outside the Moyo (“Life” in Chichewa language) nutritional rehabilitation centre. Children with malnutrition often have prolonged admissions, and their care continues at home through nutritional programmes at primary health centres located in the community.

A nurse attends to a newborn in the nursery. In the photo there are 2 babies in this cot designed for 1 baby. Up to 6 premature babies are sometimes nursed on this cot alone which has a functioning overhead heater. Babies are given oxygen through a tube, and those too young to suckle are fed via tube. At the top right corner of the photo is a “lunchbox” that is the nursery’s bubble CPAP machine. In the top left corner of a photo is nestled a “splitter” – a device that can split the oxygen supply to provide low flow oxygen to up to 8 babies from 1 oxygen source. In this nursery there is very serious understaffing. I have seen a nurse not leave this room for more than 72 hours as there was no other nurse to come and replace her.

The nursery for infants born outside hospital or those readmitted. On the right of the bench an oxygen splitter can be seen, and above it a monitoring unit for vital observations that is shared by the entire ward. (In Australia each baby would have their own monitor.) On the left on the floor is an oxygen concentrator. this machine sucks in air, extracts nitrogen gas leaving almost pure oxygen. It never runs out, but is dependent on electricity. When black-outs occur (and they occur often) any child needing oxygen is left unsupported. In a crowded nursery environment like this with cots separated by a panel of wood it is difficult to prevent cross-infections. I have seen a baby come in with severe chest infection and recover only to develop severe diarrhoea from a baby on the next cot, and go on to die from dehydration due to the illness he obtained in hospital.Under these cots are bright lamps which help keep the babies warm. The room is kept hot too, and feels like a sauna to work in.

The high dependency unit. Two CPAP machines are on the left, and a wall mounted monitor. The bed on the far right is being shared by two unrelated children, as is the second bed on the left. The entire hall is always full. There are two nurses for this hall. 

The two children in this bed have become friends. Both are recovering well. Water is not fluoridated in Malawi, and although safe to drink, does not protect against tooth decay. The clothes are bought at the market. They are sourced almost entirely from donated hand-me-downs from the West. It is not unusual to see a man on the street wearing a “Welcome to Ballarat” T-shirt. Or a T-shirt celebrating Australia’s bicentenary, or Sydney swans vest… This boy got nice Bob the Builder overalls. 

The newly built adult emergency department. A very limited ambulance service has to prioritise obstetric emergencies. Most other emergencies have to make their own way to hospital. For many this means paying a bicycle taxi to take them. In the middle of the night this can be unaffordable for many families, which means children often present for care very late, often too late, for a meaningful recovery.  

Got to throw in a photo of a cute baby! This child is shown recovering from severe pneumonia with CPAP and intravenous antibiotics, and in the next photo is now ready to go home.

Improving child health and reducing mortality is complex, since the fundamental underlying causes of poor health are economic and political, as well as more directly biological. 

They relate to literacy and female empowerment as much as they do to food security and availability of preventive interventions such as vaccination. 

Malawi has engineered improvements in food security and seen improvements in literacy in recent years. It has been very proactive in introducing vaccines that have been in use in wealthy countries for many years but were unaffordable in most other countries. Hospital care for children is improving also. 

But a major gap remains in availability of health staff. 

With my own eyes and almost on a daily basis I see children die who would have survived if they had closer nursing care. Supporting a nurse not only provides better care for children, but also gives that nurse employment and helps her to support and educate her own family. 

Shira Hadasha in Melbourne is collecting money for this purpose. All money collected is transferred into a foreign currency account of the Queen Elizabeth Paediatric Department held in Malawi. It will be used to provide employment for a nurse for the children’s wards. There are no overheads or other losses apart from bank fees for the funds transfer. All monies will pay salary, superannuation and other on-costs (eg medical insurance) for the nurse. The money in this account is regularly externally audited.

To donate to this important project please visit

(All photos taken with permission of the parents/guardian for the purpose of disseminating information about the department for fund raising. Photos taken by Dr Sarita Depani and Dr Andrew Selman.)

Posted on September 10, 2012 .

The Round Up


Shira invites you to see

The Round Up
(La Rafle)

Saturday, May 7, 2011
at The Classic, Elsternwick

Program begins at 9:00 pm.

The Round Up (French: La Rafle) is a 2010 French film. Based on the true story of a young Jewish boy, Joseph, who starts on his way to school with a yellow star sewn on his chest, to a mixture of reactions from the community. Life under occupied France is one of fragile caution, until one morning, July 16th 1942, when 13,000 Jews are rounded up into the Velodrome, not by the Nazis but by the French Police, in their enthusiasm to collaborate. The film follows the real destinies of families caught up in this little known piece of history.

We will hear from a French survivor before the screening.

Tickets: $15

Bookings: please click here.


Posted on April 18, 2011 .

Alt Neu I am Art

The Tikkun Olam committee of Shira Hadasha is delighted to invite you to the inauguration of the Alt New I am Art gallery. Mark Baker will launch the exhibition, which features a recent work by Yosl Bergner that comments on the prevailing Indigenous predicament. 25% of proceeds from the gallery’s opening exhibition will be donated to one of our major endeavours. The kehillah will fund a graduating prize in honour of William Cooper,* for an Indigenous student in Indigenous Health, and another in Indigenous Education. Over time, we hope to grow these into full PhD scholarships. (Contributions warmly welcomed.)

Click here to download a PDF with more details.

* Check him out if you don’t know his story.

Posted on March 24, 2011 .

An Approach to Tikkun Olam

An Approach to Tikkun Olam at Shira, Feb 2011

The literal meaning of tikkun olam is mending the world, as in the Aleinu prayer; l'takken olam b'malkhut Shaddai, to repair the world under God's sovereignty. How do we do this; perfect the world, when we fall so far short of perfection ourselves?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,1 in his 1997 address before the Orthodox Union Convention at the Institute for Public Affairs on the topic of Tikkun Olam; Orthodoxy’s Responsibility to Perfect G-d’s World, takes it to be that part which we should “take as Jews, specifically what part should we play as Orthodox Jews, in the wider concerns of the society in which we live.”

God tells Abram to go within himself, away from his lands and birthright and his father’s house, to the land that God would show him.2 He tells him that He would make Avram into a great people, “and I will bless you and grow your name, and you shall be a blessing”. So, teasing this famous promise apart a little, yields the promise of the land, the promise of offspring, and the promise of being a blessing — as opposed to (merely) being blessed.

And herein lies, I believe, the secret of tikkun olam; when we, the offspring of Avraham can succeed in being a blessing to all the families of the earth and concern ourselves with the world’s distress, beyond our own personal blessings, then we can make tikkun olam.

But of course, as Rabbi Tarfon put it;3 “the day is short, the work is huge, the workers are lazy, the wage is great, and the Master of the house is insistent. It is not upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

We see in Avram’s blessings, the concentric circles from his innermost self to the outermost stranger — all the families of the earth will be blessed. And this we try to emulate by concerning ourselves with those who need our support both close at hand and also further away. After all, Hillel said not only:4 “if I am not for myself, who shall be for me?” He also said; “if I am for myself (alone), what am I?”

Here, then, is the answer to how we do it: we perfect the world one little Sisyphean bit at a time; to the best of our abilities; acknowledging that we are far from perfect, but that we are blessed, and that we can be a blessing for others. We do not each, individually, have to build utopia, but each of us must lift our bit of the sky - and lift it again when it drops.

The world has so many urgent needs begging to be fixed; natural disasters, asylum seekers, famines, diseases, we can’t name them all. Then there are the causes, small and large, from the whales to the ecology. And that’s without getting involved with any political “isms”. So how do we decide which part of the sky we will try to hold up as the Shira community, as opposed to Ms Ploni, the individual, or the Almoni Corporation?

There are tasks for each of us to take on individually, as families as good corporate citizens, but as the Shira community, we have decided to focus on three main streams of endeavour. In no particular order, we will offer support to members of own community who feel they need it; we will work to help disabled Jewish people and their families; and we will work to help Indigenous Australians towards their goal of true equality. Additionally, if anyone comes to us requesting help with something, we will do our best to help. Not everything involves money. But all things take time and heart and effort.

We are presently looking at interacting with existing organisations in Jewish disability and Indigenous disadvantage, since we have something of an aversion to reinventing wheels. One project we definitely want to look at is making the name and story of William Cooper better known. (Do you know about him?)

So, if you feel you have something to offer our communal effort, grab your piece of sky and get in touch.

Magdi Bar-Zeev
Tikkun Olam committee

2: Bereishit 12:1-3
3: Pirkei Avot 2:20-21
4: Pirkei Avot 1:14

Posted on February 20, 2011 .

On Asylum Seekers

By Vivian Parry.

It is 2010.

Monday morning 9.a.m. I phone Sister Catherine of the Brigidine Justice Community to ask her for her wish list for the forthcoming year. Sisters Bridget and Catherine are responsible for the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project. The Project aims to provide hospitality, practical support and Justice for Asylum seekers. These two ladies well into retirement age, work tirelessly for the men, women and children arriving in Australia as refugees from places such as Darfur, Burma, and Afghanistan, Home for these desperate people, is now the detention centre at Maribyrnong. Often sick, frightened and unable to sort through the maize of red tape thrust upon them, the Asylum seekers are relieved beyond our comprehension to meet these two patient and caring women. The forms will be explained and documents sorted, letters written, and good clothing, toiletries and treats for the children handed out. The Brigidine Justice Community’s motto is “Strength and kindness” their special saying is “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” The Brigidine Sisters are true to their word..

It is 1939.

My Mother, her parents and sister arrive by ship and dock at Port Melbourne. Aided by Dutch cousins, they have escaped Nazi Germany. My Grandfather, a Dentist whose surgery was destroyed on Kristallnacht (his trigger to finally leave), had a few years before, taken the first of his precautionary measures by storing small quantities of gold as Dentists were still allowed to purchase gold for their work. He was advised by a trusted Colleague to convert this gold into jewelry, a legal, desirable commodity to trade for the family’s freedom. The second precaution he undertook was to write to the American and Australian Authorities asking if he would be able to continue to practice as a dentist in their Country should he have to leave Germany. The replies were affirmative from both. Choosing the Country furthest away from Europe, Australia, the family settled into a flat on the corner of Dickens and Tennyson St. Elwood. My Grandfather prepared the front room as his surgery. The table with his precisely laid out his dental tools, and for the patients, black leather and chrome Bauhaus chairs. A letter received shortly after, destroyed the family’s dreams. My Grandfather would not be allowed to Practice.. There had been a change in the regulations. A sensitive and distinguished man, having served in the first war as an officer in the German Army, my Grandfather forced himself to go against the Law and offered his services by hushed word of mouth to the local migrant Community. Family welfare came before honor if it meant food on the table. The Government sent a spy masquerading as a patient with a bad toothache. My Grandfather was snared in the trap. Broken hearted he paid his fines, the end of a dedicated career.

It is 2006.

My social worker friend at Hanover Family Services called me about a family who had come to Hanover in desperate need, a Father, Mother and their daughter. They had paid their own way to Australia and sought Refugee status. Waiting to have their case heard, their savings were now gone. Hanover through the Salvation Army provided them with accommodation, their needs were so much more. I agreed to pay their utility bills hopefully this would enable them to stay in the house past the allotted three months. I came to know the mother well. I learnt as an Asylum seeker on a “Bridging Visa E” you are not permitted to work. There was no Medicare, no Dole or Centrelink allowance. The local headmaster agreed to let the girl go to his school, Asylum seeker children were not allowed to do so. We visited the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in West Melbourne. Refugees with No income can make one weekly visit to receive groceries from the Food Bank. The Resource Centre budgets on $6 per person a week. All Asylum Seekers and Refugees waiting on resolution of their case are required to attend the Immigration Department. We went together to Spring St and lined up in the queue, forms ready and signed. A “Check in.” for this family, repeated every three months for the past ten years. As Arnold Zable wrote in the Age May 19th, “With every passing month the agony of indefinite separation from family increased and drove many to the brink of madness.” As one Asylum seeker put it, “the visa reduced him to a nothing … a nobody.”

It is 1940.

My Grandfather is a broken man. My mother, 18 years old and the sole bread winner, rides an old bicycle from the flat in Dicken’s St, to Park St South Melbourne. Upstairs above the row of shops, is the factory where this once talented art student now folds and packs socks. Friday arrives, Pay day. The workers line up and receive their yellow envelopes. The factory owner waits at the door. He takes the packet out of my mother’s hand, removes half the contents inside, folds down the top and hands it back. Not one word is spoken, some money is better than nothing.

It is 2010.

I load up my car with quilts, sheets, pillows, men’s clothing size XXL, warm winter coats, the brand new fry pan in the box. The good second hand kettle and last but not least, babies clothing and blankets for three new born children. I have been a bit lucky. Sister Catherine’s wish list was all scooped from my stockpile in the garage. How fortunate am I to have such generous friends. Many hands make light work, the car is unloaded, the waiting tables filled. We hold each other and hug, no words are needed. I am the daughter of a Holocaust Survivor. My early childhood recollections of my migrant family are indelibly imprinted on my memory. I cannot change the past, can never erase the sadness or take away their pain. I was to young then, I am not to young now. I reflect on the day’s events. In my mind’s eye I see Sister Catherine’s hands bunched together under her chin, her gaze one of joyful anticipation as she imagines giving out these much needed goods. Not just material items but a symbol of hope and the knowledge someone does care. The midday light streaming in through the convent windows seems to illuminate the room with a golden glow. The same soft, warm glow as my Grandfather’s gold…… my inspiration.

Posted on August 5, 2010 .

Tikkun Olam @ Shira

This past Friday evening, Vivan Parry shared with us her experiences volunteering at a drop-in centre for the mentally ill homeless people of Melbourne. For those of us who didn’t hear her moving Drasha, here’s what she said.

Coming from what I now know as a “typically dysfunctional post holocaust” family, I wondered if there was a connection that guided me towards my journey into Community Welfare.

During my one year guide training course at the Holocaust Museum I was fortunate to hear a lecture by a Psychologist Dr. Ester Fay. Dr. Fay told us that our first Mirror reflection as to how we perceive ourselves is our Mother’s face. If our Mother is calm and happy, we see the world as a wonderful place and ourselves as being special. If our Mother’s face is drawn, anxious and fearful, we absorb these emotions and feel equally fearful and unsettled about ourselves,

No prizes for guessing my Mother’s reflection.

I grew up understanding something was vaguely wrong but never knowing what it was. Eventually piecing together the minute fragments of family history overheard, but never spoken out loud.

I came to know that my Mothers’ family fled Berlin in 1938, leaving most of their possessions and the life they desperately cherished behind. I still wonder if my Grandfather bothered to turn the key and lock the front door that final time. Would I, hopefully I will never know.

I became a young person concerned about the trials of others.

I told my mother when I was about ten years of age that I wanted to become a nun and work on a leper colony in New Guinea. She replied “They have enough problems without you there!” Not to be daunted, I have spent the last 30 years whilst still working and with family responsibilities, seeking out and doing my best to alleviate in some small way, the problems of those less fortunate.

I have had long term involvement with several organizations, always in the capacity of being called upon to assist with a particular families’ needs or as I personally chose, to keep as many people warmly clothed and as comfortable as possible.

Hanover family services told me about the St. Kilda Drop in Centre for homeless people with severe mental illness. “Off you go, Viv, this one is really for you.” 120 participants 80 men 40 women all homeless aged between 16 and 70 Some living on park benches others paying 95% of their pension for one tiny room in a boarding house, 5% isn’t very much left over for all the necessities of life. The Drop in Centre is their daytime home, 5 days a week.

I landed on their doorstep and put forward my proposal to supply as much clothing in good condition and household goods, like blankets and towels, as I possibly could. Immediately accepted. I rang and campaigned anyone that came within the line of vision, from the dog people at the park, to long supportive friends, neighbors, shop keepers, anyone who looked like they might have clothes to share. That was in 2000. My garage and front door step still receive welcome bags and boxes of goods. I visit friends for social occasions and leave schlepping bags of clothes

Everything that comes my way is sorted on a folding table in my garage and then delivered to the Drop in Centre in St. Kilda, the Nuns at the Brigidene Convent for their asylum seekers project at the Marybyrnong detention centre, the JCCV shop in Hawthorn rd. Rosalie Silberstein’s Posh Oppe Shop . Children’s toys and clothes go to an Orthodox lady who keeps a Gemacht in her home for the needy in her Community.

Some of the people who attend the Drop in centre include Vietnam vets, a cartoonist from a Canberra newspaper, 2 Ansett pilots, farmers off the land broken by the drought losing all to the bank, families as well.

Asking if there was a particular wish the participants might have, the social workers’ survey revealed they would like to “do photography.” When I asked why, I was told “because they just want to OWN some photos.” That night I dreamt I was able to buy 7 digital cameras for $500. My prayer was answered and I was able to purchase the cameras plus the 2 gig cards. There was nothing I reasoned with myself that would give me more satisfaction than to buy those cameras.

A dear friend unloaded a heap of ladies’ underwear at my door just before Christmas. “Sell it for whatever you can get and spend the money on one of your causes”. An unreal challenge. In $5 and $10 sales I raised $1200 which we spent on pedestal fans and set top boxes for my friends at the Centre.

There is a fine line between sanity and a life destroyed. I see a Jewish man there quite often; thin as a toothpick, front tooth missing, about 45 years of age. He often helps me unload my car making wise cracks about the goods I have brought. “You can leave that lot in the gutter” he tells me, and we have a good laugh. He can’t believe I remember his name, Rubin, as I watch him standing in the communal kitchen making his mug of coffee, I can’t believe he is one of ours…. Where have we failed?

We are all capable of throwing a little light into a dark space; my message is to not miss an opportunity to help another person in a simple way that shows you care.

At the appropriate time when Sister Catherine from the Convent or the Manager of the Centre asked me the inevitable question “Why do you do this Viv, it is a lot of work?” my answer is simply “because I am Jewish, and we know what it is not to have.”

Posted on February 7, 2010 .

Jewish Response to Haiti Earthquake

While we are still on holidays, Shira encourages members to support Jewish Aid’s appeal for the devastation unleashed by the earthquake in Haiti.

To all concerned Jewish community members:

In Haiti, tens of thousands of people are reported dead and the death toll continues to rise after the most devastating earthquake to shake the region in two hundred years (for more info click here). Schools, hospitals and thousands of homes have been destroyed and over three million people have been left without adequate food, shelter, healthcare and basic infrastructure.

All proceeds from this appeal will be distributed to CARE Australia, which is a non-religious and non-political Australian charity, who are conducting a large scale relief and rescue operation:

"CARE is deploying additional emergency team members to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where the worst earthquake in 200 years destroyed houses and left thousands homeless. While the exact death toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake is not yet known, it is expected to be catastrophic.

"It is just morning here now," describes CARE's Country Director in Haiti Sophie Perez on January 13, less than a day after the quake. "I can hear helicopters working on the search and rescue. The immediate need is to rescue people trapped in the rubble, then to get people food and water. We're particularly worried about the children, because so many schools seem to have collapsed. Children were still in school in the afternoon when the earthquake hit, so there are many children trapped. It's horrifying."

The Australian Jewish community is being mobilised to support Haitians in their time of need. Please consider a generous contribution to JAA's Haiti Appeal, to enable CARE to assist communities in Haiti to respond, recover and rebuild in the wake of this enormous disaster.

Donations can be made by credit card over here or direct debit online (see below). All donations are tax deductible. (Please allow one month for your receipt to arrive.)

Thank you for your generous support.


Gary Samowitz

CEO, Jewish Aid Australia

ph: (03) 9500 2206

m: 0413 525 592


For more information about Jewish Aid Australia click

For a direct deposit, Jewish Aid’s account details are as follows. (Please email us after you have transferred your donation.)

Bank: Bendigo
Account: Jewish Aid Australia
BSB: 633000
Account Number: 123798688

Posted on January 14, 2010 .