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1-800-462-9519 42 Southern Jewish Life • July 2018

We began our trip in Mumbai, visiting the Sassoon Dock, begun by a Jewish merchant, David Sassoon who came to Mumbai from Baghdad in 1832. At one time, there were over 40,000 Jews in India. Today, there are fewer than 4,500 and many communities do not have enough people to make a minyan. All of the Jews in India were Orthodox, and when Israel became a state in 1948, most of the Jews made aliyah to Israel. Jews were always able to worship freely in India and they were also very well respected. Most of those who moved felt they could be more religious in a place where there were more Jews. There were two main types of Jews who originally came to India, and all were Sephardic. The Baghdadi Jews came from Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Persia. Like David Sassoon, most of them came to India as merchants in the trading business. The other Jews who lived in India were the Bene Israel Jews. Legend has it that a group of Jews escaping religious persecution in Palestine over 2,000 years ago were shipwrecked off the coast of India, south of Mumbai. Seven couples survived and began the Bene Israel community in India. The Shema was one of the prayers they remembered from their tradition and it was recited at all occasions. So, the Shema is prominent in all of their synagogues. We visited the site where, according to legend, the shipwreck occurred, and visited a Jewish cemetery with a monument dedicated to their memory. The first of many synagogues we visited was the Magen David Synagogue, built in 1861 by David Sassoon. There is a Jewish school, the Jacob Sassoon School, next door to the synagogue. The enrollment is now 90 percent Muslim. The synagogue and the school are painted a beautiful light blue color. Shoes are removed before entering all synagogues in India. As is common in all synagogues in India, the ark is at the far end with a bimah in the middle. There is also a second bimah upstairs where the women sit behind a mechitza. The Torah and Haftarah are always read from the balcony bimah. In all of the synagogues we visited, we saw many light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. These were often assigned to families and they would light lights in them to commemorate a family Yahrzeit. We spent five days in Mumbai and the surrounding areas. We took a ferry to Elephanta Island, a 7th-century Hindu Temple dedicated to the god Shiva, which was carved out of a cave. We visited Alibaug, where we were treated to an amazing Israeli meal by Chef Moshe, who owns a cooking school and restaurant there. We visited the Chabad House to remember the victims of the 2008 terrorist attack and we visited Gandhi’s House. We attended Shabbat services at Knesseth Eliyahu Synagogue and enjoyed a traditional Indian Shabbat meal hosted by a relative of David Sassoon and other members of the synagogue. Our next stop was Cochin, called the “Miami of India” because of its tropical climate, palm trees and beaches on the Arabian Sea. We saw the Chinese fishing nets and walked through Jew Town, the area where the Jews lived. Today, fewer than 25 Jews remain in Cochin. We visited four synagogues in Cochin, including the 450-year-old Paradesi Synagogue and the Kadavum Bagam Synagogue, which is maintained by a private citizen and is entered by walking through his business, a tropical fish and plant store. The Jews were very well respected in Cochin and very much liked by the Maharaja. In fact, he donated land to the Jews to build a synagogue right next to his palace and Temple. This was the Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry. The ark is a dramatic red and gold, and the floors are blue and white tiles which were imported from China in 1762. While in Cochin, we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Arabian Sea and attended a Kathatali dance performance, an ancient form of storytelling through dance and movement performed by men who study 6 years to learn the craft. Then we ate an Indian meal served on a plantain leaf.

SJL New Orleans, July 2018  

July 2018 New Orleans edition of Southern Jewish Life, the official Jewish news magazine of the Greater New Orleans Jewish community.

SJL New Orleans, July 2018  

July 2018 New Orleans edition of Southern Jewish Life, the official Jewish news magazine of the Greater New Orleans Jewish community.