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Say Shalom At The Occasion Of The Jewish New Year cover Picture

Say Shalom On The Occasion Of The Jewish New Year

Taking a closer look at the Jewish community in Mumbai.

“You’re Jewish!” That was my surprised and maybe not so politically correct reaction when I met Bhakti at the True School Of Music a few months ago. The last time I heard anything about the Jewish community in Mumbai was when the 26/11 attacks happened at the Chabad House, a synagogue and Jewish Outreach Center in the city. It made headlines with its brutality that killed Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka. The rabbi's two-year-old son Moshe was rescued by his nanny.

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Today as one enters the place, security is tight and the atmosphere quite tense. “A lot of things have changed after the attack. The entire house had to be rebuilt but we are continuing the tradition steadfastly ever since,” says Israel Kozlovsky, the present Rabbi. Celebrations for the Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, are in full swing and the place continues to host fellow Jews and offers a host of services including kitchen koshering, marriage preparation, Shabbat hospitality, Judaica shop, Jewish Learning Center and even free internet among others. Inspite of the numbers (4000 at last count), the community has left their mark in Mumbai with the David Sassoon Library, the Gateway of India, Café Moshe and the Hutatma Chowk, all Jewish constructions and contributions.

I chat with my three new friends to know more about their New Year and their culture:

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Bhakti Richard Klein, US National based in Mumbai, Freelancer  

How long have you been living in Mumbai?

Since January full time, and over the last 5 years I’ve spent about half my time here.

What is the Jewish community here like?

I’m not sure how much of a community there really is here. If there is, I haven’t tapped into it. My experience has been of being Jewish in a place where many religions coexist. 

Are you religious?

I follow some aspects of it. I keep kosher, I celebrate some holidays in my own way, I am in touch with Jewish communities back in the US.

What customs in Judaism do you like?

What I’m most proud of is the idea of Tikkun Olam; the world is imperfect, and our job on earth is to make it a little bit better. Through our interactions with people and all the little things we do, Judaism teaches us to live our lives serving others, trying to fix the world one small part at a time, making the world a little bit better each day. 

Do a lot of young Jews follow tradition?

There are some young orthodox Jewish people in traditional communities around the world, but Jews have always integrated into the lands they live in. The Indian Jews of Kochi or Bombay are fully Indian as well as Jewish. Judaism has evolved and it will continue to evolve.

What does the New Year mean to you?

The New Year begins a 10-day period ending with the holiday Yohm Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The entire 10 days is a time to reflect on the previous year, meditate on habits we want to break and habits we want to start, ask forgiveness of other people if we wronged them at any time that year, and give thanks for another year of life.  

Share some customs with us.

There is a ceremony called Tashlich, where you symbolically cast away last year’s sins by tossing things into a river. Some people shake out their pockets and empty the dust, some people write their sins down and burn them, and toss the ashes in the river, some people write down habits they want to break and toss those. There are lots of ways to do it, but they all symbolise getting rid of something from the old year. Not just changing behaviour, but also giving up feeling guilty and worrying about our mistakes. It’s a way to put the past behind us and live in the present moment. 

What delicacies are you planning for the day?

On New Year’s Day, we eat apples dipped in honey, so that the year will be a sweet one. 

The Jewish community has dwindled in India from 7000 to 4000. What do you think the reasons are for this?

It’s a little sad that the beautiful synagogues in town are turning into museums, and that most people don’t know that there is so much Jewish history in Mumbai. However, Jews lived in Mumbai and around the world because they were in exile from their homeland in Israel, since then, the Jewish homeland has been restored. So if Jews around the world want to return to Israel, I can’t be upset that they are returning to their homeland.

How does the community celebrate in Mumbai?

If they do, I’m not aware of it.

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Steeve Gabriel, 20, Student, Santacruz

How long have you been living in Mumbai?

I was born here, so since the beginning.

Are you religious?

Yeah I do. I observe the shabbat (Friday evening to Saturday evening, also known as the day of rest). I do the daily morning services and also try to be a good human as humanity is one of the key tradition for the Jews.

What customs in Judaism do you like?

Everything. There are some things I'm not proud of but that's because we have a different upbringing as regard to other religions.

Do a lot of young Jews follow tradition?

Young Jews are the future of our tribe. In Mumbai, we have a lot of activities going on to promote Jewish education and importance such as the Youth Community that has a lot of programmes to connect young Jews and make them feel united.

What does the New Year mean to you?

The Jewish New Year is the beginning of the Jewish calendar. It's celebrated over two days. I will be celebrating it traditionally… we have kite flying at the Sassoon Dock where we all come together and celebrate the spirit of Judaism.

Share some customs with us.

It is customary for all Jews to listen to the Shofar (The Holy Horn of the Ram) on this day. It is also known as Day of Atonement. We also have a custom of meeting and praying near the seashore. Mumbai and Thane Jewish community meet at a dock.

What delicacies are you planning for the day?

We don't have any particular delicacies that we make on New Year, but we do have a few common dishes that have Biblical importance.

The Jewish community has dwindled in India from 7000 to 4000. What do you think the reasons are for this?

Well, it wasn't a good number then and it isn't a good number now. As long as the Jewish spirit in them survives, it doesn't matter where they live. That again, is my personal view. I'm sure there are others who will have different opinions.

How does the community celebrate in Mumbai?

Oh yeah, we do have certain things we do on the occasion, one of which is sharing the halwa! All make this sweet at home and share it among friends and family, which every community doesn’t do.

Amiel Palkar, 19, Student, Byculla

Amiel Palkar, 19, Student, Byculla

How long have you been living in Mumbai?

19 years. I was born here.

What is the Jewish community here like?

I don't think there's any difference as such, but according to me Jews in India follow the traditions more religiously than other countries.

Are you religious?

I don't follow it completely but I do certain important prayers which are included in Judaism. For example I read the Teffilin everyday. I don't follow Shabbat because it is too difficult in India since we’re way too busy on Fridays and Saturdays.

What customs in Judaism do you like?

Almost everything. Mainly I love our festival Simchat Torah. There's a tradition of looting the Mandap (a place which is decorated with fruits and is looted at the end of the two day festival).

Do a lot of young Jews follow tradition?

I'm one of them! Well we're the future of the community in India to carry on the traditions. I see it going quite well.

What does the New Year mean to you?

It's important as it is the first festival we celebrate throughout the year. So there’s quite a lot of hype about it. I celebrate it by attending the sea prayers where all my Jewish friends meet. And later I attend prayers and celebrate with my family.

Share some customs with us.

Kite flying during the sea prayers is real fun and so is blowing of the Shofar. It’s a good thing to listen to the Shofar on this day.

What delicacies are you planning for the day?

The halwa which is very famous and prepared specially for the occasion!

 

 

By Divya Naik