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DID YOU KNOW? Delhi’s only Jewish graveyard is situated next to Khan Market

New Delhi, Wednesday December 3, 2008

A home for the travelling Jews Mumbai’s terror-hit Jewish center has a branch in the Capital

MAYANK AUSTEN SOOFI

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Home away from home: Emmanuel at the entrance of Chabad House

ewish skullcaps. Hebrew graffiti. Rabbi’s hat tucked on the wall. Welcome to Jerusalem. Now come back to Delhi. We never left. It’s just Paharganj and we are in Chabad House, a sort of a Jewish community club. With headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, Chabad Houses are established all over the world. Look for it in touristy places visited by Israelis. There is a Chabad House in Dharmshala, in Pushkar and one such was at Mumbai’s Nariman House. Last week it was attacked by terrorists and its caretaker couple were killed. With the tragedy still resonating in newspapers, I walked into Paharganj bylanes in search of Delhi’s only Chabad House. It used to be in a room at Hare Rama Guest House but now… it’s not there! “It shifted,” the receptionist said. He guided me to a street lined with internet cafes and a few steps later I spotted a signboard — Chabad House. Perhaps what McDonald’s is for travelling Americans, Chabad House is for Israelis — something familiar in a foreign land. A home away from home. Israeli backpackers on their way to Dharmshala or Goa usually make a stopover in Paharganj hostelries and it is at this Chabad House that they drop by to celebrate Jewish festivals like Hanukkah and Passover. If there’s no special occasion, they simply

gather together to share the weekend Sabbath meals. With its bookshelves, low tables and wooden chests, the hall appears to be a meditative retreat but it’s empty. I climb another set of stairs. Here is a large cooking range and beside it is standing a large hairy man. Emmanuel, a tourist from a town near Haifa, has just returned from Himanchal and has barged in the Chabad House to spend a quiet afternoon. He knows the couple who take care of this place. “They have gone to Mumbai after the murder of the Rabbi there,” he says. “Can it happen here, too?” I ask him. “My friend, many people are worried,” Emmanuel says, looking straight into me. “The most we can do is pray.” He leads me to the prayer hall. “See, this is just a room but it is so lovely, so calm because of what you feel each time you are here.” Emmanuel opens a cupboard and shows me holy scrolls that I’m not allowed to touch. “It’s read only during the festivals,” he says with some pride. Emmanuel is obviously a man in love with his religion but I’m told that non-observant Jews, too, come to Chabad House to be among their own in this alien land. “Here we pray, eat and rest together,” says Imanuel. “This is a precious getaway.” Considering that there are only 10 Jewish families and one synagogue in Delhi, this Chabad House is indeed precious. After the Mumbai attacks, it appears endangered, too. Delhi must never lose it.

PHOTOS: MAYANK AUSTEN SOOFI

Mayank Austen Soofi

Kosher maid in Israel Namya Sinha

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Prayer time: A visitor at Chabad House

Lost in translation: Hebrew notices stuck on the board

ali an Indian amongst the Jews, gives an account of what happens in the Chabad house (see above). She cooks and cleans the House but the community is so closed that even she does not know what goes on here. “Yahaan har Friday ko yeh namaaz padhtay hain.” (She, of course, does not know that Jews don’t read namaaz. It’s just that the community prayers make her think that they read namaaz). She tells us that the inhabitants here eat potatoes and rice most of the times. “Bilkul mirch nahin, sirf namak hi namak khaatay hain.” Apparently Lali has also learnt how to cook Israeli food like falafel, hummus and does make it on demand. Eggs, poultry, and milk are kept separately and also cooked in separate vessels. The maid cannot switch on the oven or the cooking gas on her own. “Yeh sab yeh log khud karte hain,” she says. Lali points towards a loaf of bread called challah, which is a traditional Jewish bread. The Jews themselves make this bread in the ovens in the kitchen upstairs. There is also a stock of packed food kept in cartons bearing the Israeli insignia and something written in Hebrew. Apparently they get most of their traditional food imported from Israel. The travelling Jews put up in nearby hotels but visit Chabad house for prayers and meals. For Lali, Israelis are much better employers. They pay her 3,000 rupees a month and unlike our Indian housewives, they never get on her back. She tells us that they are peace loving people and don’t mix with anybody. namya.sinha@hindustantimes.com

Library: Sacred books, including the Torah, at Chabad House

Kosher maid: Lali, the maid at Chabad House

The subway guru Rahul Sabharwal

RAHUL SABHARWAL

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Fortune teller: At CP subway

he subways in Connaught Place are home to a motley group of people selling a variety of stuff. On a recent trip through one of these, HT City came across a peculiar character— a jyotishi who goes by the name of Radha Tripathi and has been conducting his ‘business’ there for almost twenty years. Although sitting by the wall in a subway may not allow him to boast of a high-profile address, that doesn’t stop him from making tall claims. During the recent US election, he promised that he would come up with a slogan that could ‘twist the election results’. “My predictions are 99.9 per cent right and I could come up with slogans that would impact the elections,” he says. “I did my MA in History from Kanpur University…I can speak English, Hindi and Sanskrit,” he adds. The wall behind Tripathi has

different rates that apply to different people, written on it. While ‘riches’ (presumably the rich people) have to pay Rs 500, the ‘others’ avail of the same services for Rs 100. So how does he set his criteria? “It just shows who’s rich and who’s not. The foreigners are usually rich but if they insist otherwise, I just charge the basic amount,” Tripathi says. “The students are non-earning members so I charge less. I have two sons, you know,” he adds. So how did he make the subway his home from 10 am to 5 pm? He says, “There are a lot of cases of theft or women being harassed in the subways but the policemen help me. They say that I can carry on with my activities and also keep a danda with me, in case such a situation arose.” As for how he is doing, he says, “This is business…there are ups and downs.” rahul.sabharwal @hindustantimes.com

Jew spotting: At Paharganj’s Main Bazaar

Peacebook’s face Zabeeh Afaque

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acebook has become a new medium to pay homage to the victims of terrorist attack on Mumbai. On Monday morning, 23 of my Facebook friends changed their profile pictures to the Indian flag. The inbox was flooded with mails asking people to wear white in the memory of the dead. The campaign had 1,04,196 confirmed supporters. The status messages, too, are getting harsher. Siddharth Gautam, a Delhiite studying in London School of Economics, had this status message: “People who come by votes are more dangerous then terrorists who come by boats.” Juhi, a TV journalist, sarcastically changed her status to “…is quite angry. Why are politicians asked to resign? Why can’t they simply be fired?” Sree Srinivasan, of the Columbia Journalism School, had this message on his status: “Only in NYC: watching an Uzbek barber tear up about the Mumbai he knows only through childhood Bollywood movies.” Facebook has also become a platform to seek peace. A group called Creative Surfers has been posting banners in various groups asking for peace. zabeeh.afaque@hindustantimes.com


zabeeh- PEACEBOOK'S FACE [1 Dec 2008]