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.

No comments:

Post a Comment