Yom Shabbat, 15 AdarI 5781
Shushan Purim Saturday, 27 February 2021
Selfless service and an enlightening trip to India

17th November 2014

By Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi

I have just spent a week in Amritsar, India, alongside Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu leaders and my Orthodox rabbinic colleague as part of the Birmingham Faith Leaders’ Group.

The trip was organised by the Birmingham Sikh community and their leader Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh who, as we discovered, was a revered leader throughout the Punjab. We were accompanied by 20 Sikh volunteers (Sewads) who cooked our meals and looked after our every need.

Amritsar is most famous for the Golden Temple and it is indeed beautiful; a point of tranquillity in a hectic and noisy city.

At first the Temple, with its devotees bowing down and its offerings, seemed a world away from a synagogue, but at its heart is the Holy Book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. It is written in an ancient script and treated with reverence. The similarities with the honour we give to the Torah are striking.

During the week, we saw many beautiful Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) in Amritsar, in remote Punjab villages and in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas. In all, we saw their devotion to their Holy Book, which represented for them the word of God. I was moved by the devotion of the worshippers, who brought their children from a young age.

However, my strongest impression was not of scenery or buildings, but of the sense of service.

Pilgrims gladly volunteer at the kitchen at the Golden Temple. It provides thousands of meals every day, and has sent 100,000 meals to Kashmir following the earthquake there. Similar kitchens, on a smaller scale, are found at every Gurdwara and it is a religious duty to help in them and serve whoever comes to eat there. We were also moved by the sense of service of the Sewads who accompanied us.

With Mitzvah Day just gone, we can learn a great deal from Sikhs. The idea of selfless service is central to their way of life.

Mitzvah Day encouraged us to care for others for a day, but that is only a beginning. Judaism demands of us, too, a life of service, of carrying out mitzvot for the sake of others. May we be inspired to serve.

Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi is rabbi at Birmingham Progressive Synagogue