Judaism in India

#16 Sep 26th, 2004, 02:07
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#16

HAPPY NEW year!

Thanx FOR the intersesting post, Arun. I have saved it with alot of information i gather.. It really helped clear alot of information up about the JEWISH communites in INDIA, and it is nice to be having this convo at this auspicious time of the year! .. LET me WISH A HAPPY new YEAR to everyone, l'Shanah Tovah, and may the year be filled with happiness, health, PEACE, blessings and alot of wonderful Travels. see ya in INDIA. wELL, I knew about the communtiy in KOCHI, synagogue in Delhi and Bene Isreal OF Bombay, BUT not too much else, and had no idea about the small pressence of jewish families in the small villages around like Alibag, Pen, Panval, etc..FASCINATING!.HAVE you visited all these communites? Would love to hear a bit more about and see fotos.. ON the other spectrum, as an American living and traveling to my adopted homland INDIA for mANY many years,(based in Delhi) i have certainly seen the country swell with young ISREALI tourists in the areas like HP(old manali), goa, HAMPI, pushkar, and in KTM , NEpal, etc, doing there thing, but had no idea about the pressence of ISREALI rabbis in INDIA and the component you have described. I will keep my eyes out this year.. I have seen sooooo many young ISREALIS fall in love with INDIA, Yoga, learning HINDI, and other "Shanti" things, but do some actually get closer to JUDAISM through there travels to India via these Rabbis? alright TAKE CAR and happy travels...namaste/shalom Bonita
#17 Sep 26th, 2004, 06:19
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#17
One of the more amazing things I saw in Kochi were Hindu swastika designs in the ornamental iron window grates of old Jewish homes...
#18 Sep 27th, 2004, 02:47
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#18
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the small pressence of jewish families in the small villages around like Alibag, Pen, Panval, etc..FASCINATING!.HAVE you visited all these communites?
I took a day trip from Bombay with a car and driver, to visit these towns as well as the Jewish cemetery at Navgaon. The trip was organized through the (Bene Israel) Jewish community.

I had been in India for only 2 days at that time, and seeing these rural villages was a real eye-opener. Wherever we went, a local Jewish man would materialize to admit us into the synagogue, which was usually equipped similarly to Sephardic synagogues in Israel. The most impressive was the synagogue at Alibag, seen in the picture attached earlier in this thread. I'll attach more pictures as soon as I can find time...

For those of you on the lookout for the Israeli rabbis - I've heard through the grapevine that they'll be setting up shop in Arambol in November.
#19 Sep 27th, 2004, 15:34
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#19
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Originally Posted by India Edge One of the more amazing things I saw in Kochi were Hindu swastika designs in the ornamental iron window grates of old Jewish homes...
If you observe carefully, they're actually reversed. Swastikas yes but of different orientation, the Nazi ones, the arms go in 1 direction & the Indian one goes in the another....of course the Indian one being much older, even pointing out similarities to people is *not* a good idea, IMO.

FYI
#20 Sep 27th, 2004, 15:38
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#20
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they're actually reversed
Indeed. I still did a double take when the passport control officer at Bombay Airport, the first Indian I spoke to, was wearing dangling gold swastika earrings.

Anyone know why the Nazi party adopted the swastika, and even more strangely, retained the name "swastika"? Maybe an admission that the (North) Indians are the true "Aryans"?
#21 Sep 27th, 2004, 15:51
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#21
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Originally Posted by Arun Indeed. I still did a double take when the passport control officer at Bombay Airport, the first Indian I spoke to, was wearing dangling gold swastika earrings.

Anyone know why the Nazi party adopted the swastika, and even more strangely, retained the name "swastika"? Maybe an admission that the (North) Indians are the true "Aryans"?
That must have been quite a welcome at the airport ! :-)

It appears that the swastika is more common than you think all over the world. It appears to be for the reasons you stated.

The wikipedia has more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

--
p.s If I may make a suggestion, please bookmark the wikipedia website,everyone. They aim to be the free encyclopedia Britannica equivalent and they've already crossed over a 1 million articles in 100 languages. Read & contribute. Some articles may be slightly inaccurate but they are working on a proper peer review system. Anyone can edit and contribute.
#22 Sep 27th, 2004, 19:58
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My history teacher at college was a Jew

He had rich experience on this subject & well travelled arround the world. His classes were called 'applied history!'. He used to explain the Egyptian history as if the whole class was standing in front of a huge pyramid

Most of the people (I think all) of Cochin has moved to Israel.Mumbai has a big population.
#23 Sep 27th, 2004, 21:41
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#23
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Originally Posted by Digital Drifter If you observe carefully, they're actually reversed. Swastikas yes but of different orientation, the Nazi ones, the arms go in 1 direction & the Indian one goes in the another....of course the Indian one being much older, even pointing out similarities to people is *not* a good idea, IMO.

FYI
Most of the Indian swastikas I've seen (on fabrics, vehicles etc.) face the same as the Nazi one, except the Nazi swastika is at a 45 degree angle in comparison. I really can't remember which way the ones in the window grates faced. Of course I was seeing them from the outside and they would face the other way when looking out the window from inside. However, I do believe that most Native American swastikas are the reverse as are some other Asian ones. Moreover, it apparently doesn't really matter which direction it faces.
This site has some very interesting pics: http://www.heathenworld.com/swastika/
On the history of the swastika: http://www.innerx.net/personal/tsmith/swas.html
#24 Oct 5th, 2004, 09:42
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Originally Posted by bongdongs Bombay used to have a large Jewish population (several thousand strong). Most of them migrated to Israel. One of the former heads of the Israeli airforce (during the Yom Kippur war?) was a Bombay born jew.
Actually it was an Indian airforce general, hero of the India-Pakistan War. The name escapes me. Article about him in Jerusalem Post recently.
#25 Feb 16th, 2005, 21:55
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#25
(Stumbled here via a recent question on Judaism in India,)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arun Interestingly, the makeshift syngogue set up in the Hare Rama hotel in Paharganj (and named after the hotel) is probably the only synagogue in the world named after an "idolatrous" god!
That's interesting, I stayed there several times. Well they had a big Israeli clientele. Suppose they cashed in on them or is there more to it?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arun Anyone know why the Nazi party adopted the swastika, and even more strangely, retained the name "swastika"? Maybe an admission that the (North) Indians are the true "Aryans"?
Well as has been pointed out, the swastika and similar symbols are found in many cultures, they're often thought to be a sun symbol and/or to stand for the four corners of the world.

As you know parts of the national socialist movement were into Aryan mumbo jumbo (Hitler himself is said to have not been very fond of the esoteric musings) and some of them even laid contacts with Indian and Tibetan spiritual leaders yes, often quite convivially. The Lonely Planet mentions casually how in Darjeeling you can have a view of Mt. Kanchenjunga through a Zeiss telescope donated to a Nepalese maharaja by Adolf Hitler to name but one example. It's shocking how today many Indians speak quite frankly of Hitler as a great man, mind you he was the guy kicking their colonizer's ass so I don't think they usually mean anything more sinister by it. Even today Western news is often covered on page 9 of the papers and it gives you some perspective on how Indians see the world, they're just focused on other things and the general region.

So yes I suppose the Nazi swastika had to do with the attempt to construct a glorious Aryan/Indo-Germanic past, think also of the use of runes etc. Most of that was just poppy-cock and had nothing to do with any historic Germanic roots of course but I guess it made people feel good after the WWI defeat or something. It also has to do with the general spread of funky esoteric and specifically anthroposophical ideas at the time (today's Auroville is a product of the latter) which were far from always kosher with regards to their racial notions and so on, and antisemitism was quite fashionable even in many socialist circles for instance. Anyway how the Aryans had anything to do with their view of blonde blue-eyed conquerors remains a historical mystery but then the great man himself was a dark bastard midget of course so I guess they didn't have everything quite balanced out.

Well anyway libraries must have been filled with the subject, just in a nutshell and from Machadinha's point of view.
#26 Sep 26th, 2005, 03:12
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#26
With the high holidays fast approaching, I thought I would add to the excellent posts based on my experiences over the past few years of traveling and seeking out Jews in India.

The biggest Jewish community in India is definitely in the state of Maharashtra - in and around Mumbai. As has been noted, in central Mumbai (the Kala Ghoda area of the city), there is the Knesset Eliyahoo (1884) synagogue, which is located only a short walk from the Prince of Wales Museum. It is a beautiful building both on the inside and out and is frequented by the remnants of Baghdadi Jewish community. According to the people who maintain the building, there is still an active minyan (i.e. services) on Saturdays.

Also in the same area of Mumbai (right across the street from the Jehangir Art Gallery) is the David Sassoon Library, which was built by the famous Baghdadi Jewish family. It is a beautiful building of early Indo-Saracenic design with a small garden behind it and someone told me that this was once a hospital, (though I have not independently verified this). Incidentally, at the Prince of Wales Museum, right at the main entrance, in the arched hallway before one enters the building there is a Jewish tombstone lying unmarked on the left among several other unmarked artifacts.

Other “Jewish” sights in Mumbai include the iconic Gateway of India, arguably the most famous landmark in the city. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911, it is a little known fact that the construction costs were bankrolled by a Jewish and a Parsi industrialist. I don’t have the names, but the fact was mentioned in Nathan Katz's Who Are the Jews of India?. (University of California Press, November 2000). Incidentally, Bombay has also had a Jewish mayor in the past – Dr. E. Moses.

In the suburb of Byculla there is the Bene Israel Gate of Mercy Synagogue (1796), where legend has it that a former Muslim ruler of India, Tipu Sultan, defeated the British army and had several prisoners set to be executed. Two brothers, Hasaji Divaker and Samaji Divaker were Bene Israel Jews. When their names were read out for execution, the Queen Mother pointed out that Bene Israel are mentioned in the Muslims Holy Koran and the Sultan released them. The two brothers built the Gate of Mercy Synagogue. It s also known as Shaar-ha-Rahamim and Juni Masjid. Other synagogues in Mumbai include Ohel David (1867) and Succath Shelomo (1921), Magen Hasidim, Magen Abraham and Tipheret Israel.

At it’s high point there were some 35,000 Jews in Bombay, I was told that today there are still some 5,000 Jews in the greater Mumbai area, with most of them located in Thane. In fact, I spent a wonderful Shabbat with the Bnei Israel community in Thane where I met the Head Rabbi of India and ate kosher goat in curry for the first time in my life. The synagogue in Thane is called Shaar Hashamaim (Gates of Heaven). They are a very tight knit community and though I was there on an ordinary Sabbath, the synagogue was packed. They prayed in Sephardi fashion (chanting everything singsong and in unison) and it was the first time in my life I prayed barefoot. Next door to the synagogue the community runs a guest house. The Rabbi is a Yeshiva University graduate who also lived many years in Israel and chose to return to India.

The community puts out a journal every two months in Marathi, Hebrew and English and has close ties with the community in Israel. In fact, I was told that every year they send several Marathi language instructors to Israel to keep the language alive.

The family that invited me to dinner had only come to Bombay after Partition – choosing India over Israel. They were originally from Karachi and showed me photos of the community that once existed there. The Karachi synagogue was apparently torn down in the 1960s (apparently there was also once one in Lahore).

I have not been to the smaller coastal communities mentioned in previous posts, but would be interested in hearing if anyone has been to these communities recently. From my understanding, the Jews of the Konkani coast were Telis or oil sellers.

Less than a year ago Chabad Lubavitch sent out a full-time emissary (Shaliach) to Mumbai. Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg is the first of his kind, as all the other emissaries that were previously mentioned are only “in station” during the major holidays. Here is his contact info.

For a good article on the Jewish history of Bombay, check out this article:

(more to follow)
#27 Sep 26th, 2005, 03:19
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There are several other smaller Jewish communities scattered throughout India.

Pune: The closest one physically and culturally to the community in Mumbai is the community in Pune. There are two synagogues: Ohel David (1863) and Succath Shelomo (1921). Nathan Katz has a chapter dedicated to this community in his aforementioned book. From what I understand, services are held in Ohel David, though I have not been.

Ahmedabad: This is a Baghdadi community and there are two synagogues. Magen Abraham (1933) and Knesset Eliyahu (1884) also known as the Fort Jewish Synagogue. I have not been, but was told in Calcutta that the community is active and holds regular services.

Delhi: There is a small synagogue and study center called the Judah Hyman Hall (1956). There is also the Chabad synagogue in Paharganj in the Hare Rama hotel. During the high holidays there will certainly be a rabbi on site.

Interestingly, there is a Jew prominently buried in Jama Masjid – the largest mosque in South Asia. For those interested in the story of Sarmad, a Jewish convert to Islam and naked fakir who hailed from Iran or Armenia, I highly recommend Dalrymple’s “City of Djinns”. Sarmad was murdered by Aurangzeb and is considered a saint by Muslims to this day. It is said that after his head was lopped of, he picked it up in his hands, put it back on and completed his final prayers before dying. See also this article.

Cochin: Much has been written on the Jewish community and the beautiful Pardesi synagogue. The synagogue, built in 1569 after the Jews were forced to leave Cranganore due to the insistence of the Portuguese. It is right behind the Matancherry Palace, because this way the king could protect the community and let it continue to practice their Judaism. It is the oldest synagogue in all of the Commonwealth countries.

I stayed in Cochin for Shabbat two years ago and there was a minyan on Friday night – though it was dependent on a hodgepodge of assorted travelers. This included Israeli naval engineers upgrading ships in the local harbor, a US consular officer from Chennai, a shady ex-professor who was arranging nursing jobs abroad and several neo-hippy cum religious North African and Yemenite Jews who had decided to “settle” in Cochin. The few local Jews who were there seemed not to know what to make of this group.

On Jew street there was at least one Jewish family (the Cohens) who were eking out a living by selling skullcaps and other assorted knickknacks. Their house is easy to find – it is on the right side heading to the synagogue and the only one with a mezuzah. According to them there was only one young person left in their community and she worked as a broker in the spice trade. They asserted that there was another synagogue in Ernakulum and that what little was left of the community (some 30 people) went to services there. They also said that they were in negotiations with the Indian authorities about letting them run the synagogue as a museum. Apparently the hitch was that they wanted to still use it as long as there were some Jews left and the government wants to turn it into a revenue earning museum right away.

Calcutta: This was a major Baghdadi Jew center and the community was founded in the late 18th century. There are three synagogues, though one is in ruins. The oldest is Neveh Shalom Synagogue (1825) which was rebuilt in 1911. There is also the Magen David Synagogue (1882). This is the largest Synagogue in the East. It is a massive structure that looks bigger because it is so empty. Yet, it is difficult to find because other buildings have illegally encroached on its grounds and the gate is camouflaged by the booths of street vendors. Of the two synagogues, the Neveh Shalom synagogue is more beautiful and really worth a visit. It took me some two hours to find it the first time I went, but it is amazing inside.

I recommend that anyone who wants to visit the synagogue go first to Nahoum’s bakery in the New Market. Everyone in Kolkata knows Nahoum’s bakery and the owner David Nahoum is usually there. He is the head of what is left of the Kolkata community. If you go straight to the synagogue, they will stall have to call him to get permission to enter.

In 1964 there were still some 10,000 Jews in Calcutta, but today perhaps only 40 or so remain – all of them aged and disappearing at an alarming rate. Since I plan to spend Yom Kippur there this year, I will know some more in a few weeks. I highly recommend reading Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women's Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope by Jael Silliman.

What is also amazing about this community is that they have managed to maintain all the trappings of a vibrant Jewish community (schools, synagogues, old-age homes, hospital, bakeries, ritual baths, etc.) without any Jews. As Mr. Nahoum told me the last time we met, “We have kept everything running, all we need now is some Jews.” Who knows? As Kolkata’s economy improves perhaps a new wave of Jews will arrive. This has been the case in other parts of Asia (e.g. China).

As a side note, Mr. Nahoum told me that he had a large extended family in Rangoon. They all left for the States in the 1950s. Apparently the US allocated some 100 student visas a year for Burma during that time and the entire community used this as a ticket out.

Chennai: At present there is no Jewish community or synagogue in Chennai, but there was once a small trading community there. (Of course, if you are no doubter and consider Saint Thomas to have originally been a Jew, then you can say that there is a Jewish presence of some 2,000 years in this part of India!) Apparently Coral Merchant street was once known as Jew Street, because the trade in coral was controlled by Dutch and Portuguese Jews who lived there. I have been there and there is absolutely nothing to remind one that this community once resided there. On the third floor of the Fort George Museum, I found an old (early 18th century) map of the city on display that had a relatively large Jewish cemetery located not far from Coral Merchant street. Apparently the cemetery is now a school playground. See this article. According to the official Chennai Corporation website, of the first 12 alderman of the city, three were Jewish.

Andhra, North East, etc.: There is supposedly a community of Jews in Andhra. Since I am not that far, I am thinking of checking this out and will keep Indiamike posted if I head out there. There is a website called “Kulanu” (All of us) that includes information on “The Lost Tribes” and has information on these groups as well as all kinds of speculative stuff on the Pathans and Kashmiris.
#28 Oct 16th, 2005, 21:34
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#28
This link About the Jews of India give the details of judaism all throughout india .Interesting reading .
#29 Oct 16th, 2005, 23:17
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#29
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I still did a double take when the passport control officer at Bombay Airport, the first Indian I spoke to, was wearing dangling gold swastika earrings.
Swastika is indeed Samskrit in origin. Hitler IMO copied it imperfectly. I read in a book that his war cry was based on some university's cheering.

Anyway, swastika represents health and well being (Swasth=Healthy/clean/pure). Unfortunately it was hijacked. I recently had a Jewish friend marrying an Indian. Luckily she and her family were forewarned that since marriage is supposed to be auspicious, there would be lots of swastikas.

Hope Israeli visitors are not put off by this.
#30 Oct 16th, 2005, 23:31
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If anyone's interested, I have a load of ebooks I bought and amongst them is the wonderful story of "Ruby of Cochin" - it's heartwarmingly and wittily written in the true style of the Jewish people. I wil gladly email it to a few of you, should you desire! It's a 482 kb file.

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