As a Fishel fellow, I was placed in India with JDC Entwine Multi-Week Global Jewish Service Corps with Gabriel Project Mumbai, and I am now working in Berlin as a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps fellow.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shabbat in India

Shabbat in India (with LOTS of pictures)

We took the train down to South Mumbai for the weekend to experience Shabbat with the Indian Jewish community.  Mumbai has about 9 synagogues for a Jewish community of about 5,000 people.  The guesthouse we stayed at was right next to a big blue temple that we went to for brief services Friday night.  It seemed like the temple is not frequented much- they rarely have enough people for a minyan- and the women’s section upstairs seemed especially unused. 

The inside of the synagogue

After services, we walked down the street to the home of Sharon and Sharona (best name match ever), an Indian couple who had us over for Shabbat dinner.  They and their 3 daughters and both sets of grandparents welcomed us as well as several other Jewish travelers and current/former JDC fellows.  It was so strange but amazing to sing the Shabbat blessings with all of them in the same tunes I grew up with.  Their 9-year-old daughter, Tiferet, led the group in “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” which was very powerful coming from a little girl from this tiny diasporic Jewish community which somehow is able to remain so connected to Judaism and Israel.  I met a girl who was the JDC fellow in Mumbai in 2006, and she gave me a bunch of advice about how to make the most of my year in Berlin, and I also talked to one of the current Mumbai JDC fellows.  I’m coming to see just how amazing and interconnected the worldwide JDC community is, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Saturday was a free day for us, so we spent some time exploring So-Bo.  We started at Colaba, which is a long market with countless stalls lining the sidewalk (kind of like a shuk) selling anything from shoes to henna.  I used my notorious bargaining skills to score myself a long, Indian skirt (as I hopelessly attempt to blend in more) for less than $3 US.  I still find it baffling how cheap everything is here.  You can get a good meal at a restaurant for $1, and a 30 minute cab ride costs (ready for this one, LA people?) $2!

Wearing our matching purchases
At night, we went back to Sharon and Sharona’s for some chai tea (which we drink multiple times a day, and it’s SO good) and to do havdallah.  We then headed over to Chowpatty beach, which is a really cool area with carts selling food, mats to sit on, and little carnival rides.

On Sunday morning we woke up early for a bike tour of the city.  Biking through Mumbai traffic was absolutely insane.  We biked on the busy streets, swerving around cars and people.  The tour was great- we got to see a lot of South Mumbai including the Gateway of India, a flower market, spectacular temples, and a cow sanctuary in the middle of the city which is home to hundreds of cows!  I knew that Indians consider cows holy, but I finally learned why.  Hindus believe that 330 million of their gods live inside each cow. 

Gateway of India
Fruit and veggie market

Flower market

We spent the rest of the day at the JCC where the JDC in India is based.  We first got to participate in Gan Katan, a class for Jewish Indian children taught by one of the JDC fellows.  The kids were adorable, and I had a good conversation with a group of boys.  I learned from them that the Indian community here is incredibly connected to Israel.  Many of them have visited, and they are all pretty knowledgeable about the country and its history.  One of them also told me that “Women here are MAD about cosmetics.” and that LA is “mad sick.”  So funny.

After the Gan Katan class, we had lunch and then met with the Jewish Indian youth who are ages 18-25.  It was so interesting to interact with Jewish Indians my age.  Most of them live with their parents and for the boys, they probably will their entire lives.  That definitely contributes to a different mindset from the young people I know from the U.S. who, at that age, are starting their lives, independent of their families.  But these young people still have curfews and are supervised to a certain degree by their parents.   This emphasis on family and community over independence keeps being brought to my attention here.

I really enjoyed our weekend with the Jewish community.  From the fascinating conversations I had with local Jews to seeing little kids learn the months of the Jewish calendar, it was an impactful experience that gave me a glimpse into the status of this small but lively community.  A few weeks ago, I had no idea that this Jewish community existed at all, and I definitely had no clue that it’s truly thriving. 


  1. Brianna, It seems like you are having a blast in India (can't blame you, it's an amazing and fascinating country).
    I read your blog and I can feel like I'm almost there with you (it brings me back 6 years ago, when I was in Mumbai). Keep enjoying your stay and keep us tuned with the amazing experiences you are going through.