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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shipwrecked in India

A highlight of my stay in India was a trip we took to the Konkan Coast.  Nestled in a coastal jungle, this area contains the origins of Jewish Indians.  According to the legend, a ship fleeing from Jerusalem during the rule of Antiochus (from the Hanukkah story) was shipwrecked in this area over 2,000 years ago.  The 7 Jewish men and 7 Jewish women who survived the shipwreck became the first Jews to settle India.  Because they came to India so long ago and developed mostly in isolation from the worldwide Jewish community, Indian Jews took on their own unique practices and lack many of the customs of traditional Judaism.  For example, early Indian Jews were not aware of the story of Hanukkah because they left Jerusalem before that time, so they did not celebrate Hanukkah.  Below is the cemetery that the first Jews of India are buried in. Just beyond the walls is the beach where Indian Jews believe the shipwreck happened.

We visited the home of a Jewish family that still lives in the area.  Early Jews in India were oil pressers, and the mother of the family showed us her family’s old oil press.

old Jewish oil press that is still in use

It was amazing to see several houses throughout the town adorned with Jewish stars.  In most other places in the world, people would never advertise that they’re Jewish for fear of antisemitism. But the incredible thing about the Jewish community here is that they have experienced almost no antisemitism throughout history, living in harmony with their Hindu neighbors.

We continued on to an old synagogue that is still used by the few families that continue to live in the area.  

outside of the synagogue

We ended the day at Elijah’s Rock.  Side note: Indian Jews LOVE the prophet Eliyahu.  There are pictures of him everywhere and they are obsessed with him.  Where does this obsession come from? I have no idea.  But anyways, this rock that we visited is the sight where they believe Eliyahu ascended to heaven on his chariot of fire.  There are white skid marks on the rock to this day where they say the chariot hit.  What’s really interesting is that the Hindus also consider this rock a holy place because apparently there were Hindus there to witness Eliyahu ascending to heaven.

I’m so happy I got the chance to visit the Konkan Coast.  I can’t believe I didn’t even know about this group of Jews before I came to India. It made me realize that I truly am part of a diverse global Jewish community.  And even though the siddurim here are in Hindi and the women in temple are dressed in saris, I still feel a connection to the people when I go to temple on Shabbat and we sing the same prayers and greet each other with the same “Shabbat Shalom” that I’ve heard all over the world.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Another Face of India

Yesterday we had the privilege of checking out the rehabilitation center that Melissa’s friend, Dave, worked at for a year through AJWS.  We first visited one of their outreach centers near a local train station, where apparently heroin is a big problem.  We were greeted by current and former patients, who were so excited to have visitors, and we got a tour of the tiny building, which apparently floods frequently.  On our walk back to the train station, we were stopped by a man selling vegetables, who turned out to be one of Dave’s former patients, Kayun.  He insisted that we go to his house and celebrate his son’s 3rd birthday with him.  A short walk through narrow alleyways took us to Kayun’s little one-room hut, where he, his wife, son, and newborn daughter all live.  We all sat around on the floor, and they handed their infant daughter to me! Kayun bought us each a mango drink and insisted we drink them to celebrate his son’s birthday.  I was amazed at these people’s generosity when they have so little.  Kayun and his wife were heroin addicts but have been clean for 5 years.  Kayun is HIV positive, but by some miracle, his wife and children do not have the virus.  It was so incredible to sit in this little hut, holding the newborn baby of two former heroin addicts who have overcome such adversity to make a life for themselves.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

4th of July Party

On Fridays, we have less structured days with kids, where we mostly sing songs, play games, and just play with them.  They’re our favorite days, and they’re definitely the kids’ favorite.  In light of the 4th of July, we decided to have an America party last Friday, complete with dancing and singing.  We also bought Oreos for all the kids, which they loved.  One of the boys tried to give us his Oreo because, as he said, it was our country’s birthday, so we should have it.  Another little girl saved her Oreo to bring to her mother.  Another girl gave her little brother half of her Oreo. I am constantly amazed by what these little kids do.  Even though they have nothing, sometimes not even food to eat, they share everything.  We can all learn something from them.

Video of the kids dancing:

Fell in the mud...oops!

First Time Out of the Slum

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything, but that’s not because of any shortage of things to write! I’ll try to write a few entries over the next couple days.

Teaching in the slums has been amazing.  We’re really starting to build relationships with the kids, and they’re learning so much.  Last Sunday we took them on their first field trip to the JCC.  For most, if not all of them, it was their first time out of the slum, which was difficult to comprehend.  Their parents dressed them in their nicest clothes- the girls wore these colorful, sequined festival dresses, and the boys' hair was oiled and combed.  Most of the kids stared out the window of the bus for the entire hour-long bus ride pointing at new sights with huge smiles on their faces.  A few of them were nauseous and probably a little overwhelmed, this being their first time on a bus.  Some of the kids starting to sing "Wheels on the Bus" and "I Like to Eat Apples and Bananas," songs we taught them in class. We were so proud.

We had such a great time the rest of the day with the kids at the JCC.  We played games, did science experiments and learned about the solar system and the water cycle.  The JCC also provided 2 meals for them, complete with ice cream at the end.  I don’t know if any of them had ever tried ice cream before- it definitely didn’t look like it! 

My little buddies Raju (6 years old) and Aspak (5 years old)
First time eating ice cream!

I have never seen kids so well-behaved, especially with all the excitement around them, but they really were just happy to be there.  They were amazed by the simplest things like paper towels and the toilet which they would never see in the slum.

Our students were joined by Jewish children who are part of the JDC’s Gan Katan program.  It was very powerful to see these middle to upper class Jewish kids playing with the Hindu and Muslim kids from the slum.  It was so obvious that these groups of children come from two completely different worlds, but they were able to play games and sing songs together, completely oblivious of their differences.  

On the bus ride home, most of the children fought hard to stay awake but eventually zonked out after such a long, exciting day.