Australian kosher community kitchen marks Mandela’s birthday


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A kosher community kitchen in Sydney celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday by preparing hundreds of meals for the needy.

Our Big Kitchen, an initiative of Brooklyn-born Rabbi Dovid Slavin and his wife, Laya, hosted more than 100 volunteers Wednesday night, including a government senator, the local mayor and representatives of both major political parties.

“Mandela’s life very much reflects what we do every day in Our Big Kitchen,” said Slavin, who is also a chaplain to the New South Wales Ambulance Services and sits on the ethics committee of the Cancer Institute of New South Wales. “We also want to empower people, and food has that ability.”

Slavin, a Chabad rabbi who came to Sydney in 1992, said two former South Africans now living here approached him with the idea after the Nelson Mandela Foundation urged the public to spend 67 minutes — one minute for every year of Mandela’s public service — working for the community. Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist who was jailed for 27 years but later became the president of South Africa.

“It was an amazing event; we prepared 720 or so packages of food in 67 minutes,” Slavin said, adding that they will be distributed to numerous charities and agencies.

Opened in 2007 beneath Chabad headquarters in Sydney, the cook-for-a-cause kitchen, which is also registered as halal, is an idea that Slavin said he would like to see franchised around the world.

Among the visitors to the industrial-sized kitchen have been Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Muslim and Jewish children, former criminals, policemen and Aboriginal youth, as well as countless other Jewish and non-Jewish groups.

“When Abraham started Judaism, he began with a kitchen,” Slavin said. “He had a tent and four doors; anybody could come in. It’s the same here.”

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