February 12, 2008

It has been a week that we are in India. A week full of sensations and emotions, long like a month, a bit tiring too. Evolving in Bombay* requires some elasticity of the senses: it is as if the concert of horns, the waves of fragrances, the bouquet of spices in the local dishes and the uninterrupted movement were gifts offered by the 15 millions of inhabitants to some God of Chaos! Nevertheless, this overwhelming environment is vibrant and fascinating. Walking around the city is the best way to get lost in the mesmerizing marg (street market), make a chaï break (tea boiled in milk with sugar and spices) or try to go through the crowd of black-and-yellow cabs.
Undoubtfully, our adaptation has been eased by Savitri, our sound person and production coordinator, who has guided us with enthusiasm and intelligence in her native city.

We are staying in a residence behind the Magen David Synagogue, a light blue building which simple beauty is very relaxing. These two buildings are located in Byculla, a Muslim neighborhood, and every other night followers of Mahomet are getting married in the backyard of the Jewish temple.

During this first week we met with people we contacted from New York and Europe. They were mainly community leaders and members of international Jewish organizations:

  • Sharon and Sharona Garsulkar invited us for Shabbat, for Kiddush on Friday night and Saturday noon. They are concerned about the future of their two daughters (four and two years old) because they don’t think they will get a proper Jewish orthodox education in India.

  • Ralphy Jhirad, an influent businessman, believes the Bene Israel who stayed in India made the right choice, as their country is becoming a motor of the world economy. He invited us to his niece’s wedding, which was a great opportunity to witness a mix of Jewish customs and Indian culture.

  • At the Shaar Harahamim Synagogue (the oldest in Bombay, 1796) we participated to a Malida, a typical Bene Israel tradition celebrating the prophet Elijah, where people share a plate of fruits and sweet rice. The synagogue intendant, Elis Salomon, told us about his Hindu and Muslim friends and about his love for India.

  • The Organisation for Rehabilitation through Training (O.R.T.) and the Joint Distribution Committee (J.D.C.) are two American institutions which goal is to develop educational and cultural programs for Jewish communities. While a few young Bene Israel volunteer, elderly people mostly attend their events.

Moving and enriching, these first steps opened the way for more encounters. This Wednesday we are sailing to Alibag, a village close to the spot where the ancestors of the Bene Israel shipwrecked.

* Mumbai since 1995.