May 26, 2008

Back in Paris

After 88 days and 88 nights spent in India we finally came back to Paris on May 3rd, our hearts and souls forever impressed by this Journey and our bags full of 75 hours of footage. This material will require several months of intense work and its content is of four different kinds.
In Alibag, a small town south of Bombay, we interviewed in Marathi several characters whose lives and perspectives will give an idea of what the Bene Israel lifestyle has been for centuries: Jacob Dandekar, the old chazzan who prays alone three times a day; Levi Wakrulkar, who is in charge of slaughtering animals according to the kashrut rules; the owner of the butchery where he does it; his son Aadiel, the youngest Bene Israel of the Konkan region; Aadiel’s friends, after a cricket game.
In Bombay we conducted interviews (or filmed scenes) in English with our Bene Israel characters and their non-Jewish friends: Sharon and Sharona, in their early thirties, who are preparing their move to Israel – they are our main characters; Dev, Sharon’s best friend, a social worker helping kids from the slums; Natasha Joseph, a graduate in Literature and Psychology and young employee of the Jewish Community Center; her three friends (one Christian, two Hindus) Namrata, Ketaki and Priya, who are strongly attached to India; Natasha’s parents; JCC Director Leora Ezekiel; JCC volunteers Adir and Meirah Bhastekar; the secretary of the Jewish Agency in Bombay, Daniel Samuel.

We have shot scenes of daily life and religious practices: people at work, at home, taking the bus, praying in the synagogue, preparing and celebrating Purim, slaughtering a chicken, playing cricket, etc.
Last but not least we have shot Bombay and the Konkan region through various angles, trying to capture both the beauty and brutality of the gigantic city, and the overwhelming mix of old and new.

The night of our departure, after an exhausting, intensive month of shooting, we were satisfied to realize we captured almost everything we were hoping to get. The two first night of Pessah (Passover) are the only event we couldn’t have, because we learnt that the religious law doesn’t permit to shoot on these days.

Before flying to France we were feeling immensly grateful. The wonderful human, professional and spiritual experience we had could have only happened thanks to the generous people we met. These individuals and families opened the doors of their homes and their hearts to us, agreed to answer heavy questions, share painful truths also hopes and dreams in front of the camera of two young westerners. We hope to bring back a film that will allow the audience to live these moments, diners, discussions, which resonated so wonderfully in our souls.

The satisfaction of this trip also came from our fruitful collaboration with Savitri, our partner from India, who understood the spirit of the project since the very beginning, adding her smartness and efficiency to it. and from our familiarizing with a great environment, where everyone, from the chaï maker to the employees of our guest house, welcomed us so warmly.

For the last two weeks we have been working on two unavoidable and lengthy steps: capturing the 75 hours of footage on hard drives and doing the transcription of the interviews in English. This fastidious process makes us study the material in depth and helps us in selecting the most poignant parts. Within ten days we’ll start extracting the usable footage from the whole, and from that we’ll select the best portions. Only then will we start figuring out the structure of the film and the sequence arrangement.

Going through these interviews also reminds us how lucky we were to meet our characters. It was far from being easy to find, out of 4000 people, the few ones whose lives carry the contemporary problematic of the community. We have eventually chosen individuals who are active, dedicated to the Bene Israel fate, and who are struggling with contradictory goals.

Finally, this diversity of perspectives and images gives us the material to make a movie that will cover three main themes:
• The nature of Judaism, the uniqueness of a people scattered around the globe and the relation to Israel
• The equation between the spiritual relation to the creator and the love one can have for one or several lands
• The transformations of India, a fascinating country for both its traditions and its way of embracing the 21st century

We would like to conclude this post by thanking all the people who have supported us both financially and morally for the last five months. Thanks to the many donations and messages of encouragement we have received while we were in India this project could happen and our enthusiasm was always boosted.
Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

April 14, 2008

Dear all,

Let us apologize! We haven’t given news for a while and the simple and reassuring reason is that our production has recently intensified a lot. For two months we did some research and made our brain work hard, and we finally came up with a dense shooting schedule for April with very little space for blogging.

To make up to you we have edited a short video from the footage we just shot in the Konkan region, where the Bene Israel settled 2000 years ago, and especially in the small city of Alibag.

We interviewed there the community hazzan, Jacob Dandekar, a tiny, 76-year-old man who prays alone, three times a day. As a matter of fact, there are only five Bene Israel families left in Alibag, and they only come to the synagogue for the High Holidays. It is puzzling to witness such a situation. On one hand this survival of Jewish rituals in a very remote corner of India is magnificent, but on the other hand the loneliness of this old man who has no one to wish “Shabbat shalom” on Saturdays is heartbreaking. We asked Mr. Dandekar to guide us through the Navgaon cemetery, where the descendants of the Bene Israel are supposed to have landed. It was a great opportunity to go through the community’s early days, and this whole scene will be integrated to the beginning of our film to bring a historical depth.

Here is an extract of this scene. This was edited in our room in Mumbai, it is therefore not the final cut.

We also interviewed Levi Wakrulkar, the owner of an ice cream shop located on a street named Israel Lane because many Jewish families used to live there until the end of the 20th century. He went through the more recent history of Alibag, where his family has been settled for seven generations, and the mass emigration to Israel in 50’s and 60’s. As of today, his 15-year-old son Adiel is the youngest Jew of the entire region.

While we want to go back to Alibag once more, the rest of our shooting will take place in Bombay. We will keep following our main characters, Sharon and Sharona Galsulkar, and Natasha Joseph. During these four week we will film them evolving in diverse situations and interactions: at work, at home, with their families, their friends, in the streets of Bombay, at the synagogue, during Pessah, for Yom Hashoah, etc.

We got interested in these people because all of them have been involved in their community, with the hope of improving its situation. But out of this common ground they have taken singular journeys. While Sharon and Sharona follow Jewish orthodox practices, Natasha doesn’t believe in prayers. They also don’t have the same relation to India and Israel. Last but not least, Sharon and Sharona are the parents of two young daughters and have to make their plans accordingly, whereas Natasha is only on the doorway of her adult life.

If time allows us, we will try to publish a last post from Bombay; but if the shooting happens to be too intense we must ask you to be patient and wait for our return to France in early May.

Before going let us share with you our experience of the Hindu festivals Holi and Rang Panchami, which celebrate the first day of Spring. During this life rebirth onto the ashes of winter && which is definitely not something even close to the grey desert of naked trees one can find in Europe && Indians make gigantic campfires in the streets when night comes. The next day, for Rang Panchami, they interrupt the whole nation’s activity and dedicate themselves to a huge, collective water and colors battle! In Bombay, Savitri invited us to her house where we “fought” her neighbors from the upper floor with multicolor pigments and water buckets, in shared hilarity.

Walking along these streets and seeing all these people proudly showing their painted bodies with a bright smile on their faces was an eye and soul cheering experience. Being in a global world, we should definitely start thinking of importing this fantastic way of celebrating the life cycle renewal.

March 18, 2008

A week with the Bene Ephraim of Andra Pradesh

Last week we followed one of our main characters, Sharon Galsulkar, on his journey to meet with the Bene Ephraim community, settled for generations in the central state of Andra Pradesh.

Last summer, the American organization Kulanu sent a rabbi and his wife (Bonita and Gerald Sussman) to visit the Bene Ephraim. They met Sharon on their way back as they were stopping in Bombay, and told him about this community, lost in the plains of the Deccan. For Kulanu, finding out about an Indian Jewish educator, fully qualified and living a few hours away from the Bene Ephraim, was a great opportunity. He agreed to go on their behalf, they paid his trip. His mission was to develop the contact with the community and try to understand better their socio-economic needs on one hand, spiritual and religious ones on another hand. On our side, we wanted to follow this Bene Israel educator going to help a community reconnecting with their Judaism, a process through which his own community underwent. The challenge for us was to not be swallowed by the interesting story of the Bene Ephraim but rather focusing on Sharon’s approach to the situation.

Sharon, 33, is married to Sharona, the mother of his two young daughters. He is in charge of the Jewish Education department at O.R.T. India, which agenda is to provide professional training to needy Jews. He had the same kind of job at A.J.D.C., the other American Jewish organization holding office in Bombay. He also gave Torah classes in several synagogues in the city. Sharon enjoys a special authority in the community as he is one of the very few Bene Israel who studied in a yeshiva (Talmudic class) in Jerusalem and came back to India afterwards. He and his wife follow orthodox customs, making it often uneasy to lead an integrated life in Bombay. They want to do Aliyah to Israel, where their daughters will have the chance to receive a proper Jewish education. But Sharon is strongly attached to his city and country, developing a true passion for the fantastic Indian wildlife. On another note, his professional perspectives in Israel are still uncertain.

The Bene Ephraim community counts around 30 families, and most of its members work in the surrounding fields of chili and cotton, or in the buffalo farms, which milk is used in the preparation of curd (plain yogurt) or lassi (sweet yogurt to drink). Sadok Yacobi, the leader of the community, his wife and three children, are the only English-speakers. In Andra Pradesh the main language is Telugu. None of the Bene Ephraim can speak Hindi, the Indian official language; Sharon had to communicate with them through Sadok or his daughter Kezia.

This community lives 30 Kms away from Guntur, a growing city, about which nothing could be said beside that it is located 300 Kms from Hyderabad, itself 700 Kms East of Bombay. Their village, Chebrole, is basically a bunch of cheap businesses along the main road, from which smaller tracks go towards the fields and farmers’ houses. While commercial and residential constructions are common and a bit ugly, the landscape is gorgeous, offering to the spectator a great variety of greens, yellows and oranges. Animals, vegetation and women’s multicolor saris animate this relaxing décor.

As for Jewishness, the Bene Ephraim would be Jews settled in the Telugu region for generations. Like Bene Israel, they would have lost almost all the Jewish rituals, but not the belief in their belonging to a people whose origin is not in India. It seems that for a while they followed Christian customs, without forgetting their roots. For instance, they would have always circumcised their first-borns and would have always eaten beef, which is a great sacrilege in a Hindu country. For several generations they have been put apart of the majority and have lived side by side with the untouchables. Last but not least, they don’t work on Saturdays, although most of them are very poor farmers. Their Jewish rebirth seems to have started by Sadok’s grandfather onward.

We stayed at Sadok’s house, renovated in 1991 thanks to American funds, and which is also used as the community synagogue. Every evening Sharon met with the kids, aged 5 to 15, and taught them basic elements of Judaism through drawing, singing but also bird watching. At 8 pm adults came to listen to lectures about monotheism, the Jewish mitzvot (prescriptions) or the Jewish calendar.

It would have taken more than six days for Sharon to really understand the community’s needs, and even more to start figuring out solutions. However, during an interview on camera he declared that the ideal solution would be to send the whole community to Israel. It is definitely far from happening as their Jewishness is not recognized by the Hebrew State. But more importantly, one can doubt about the chances of social promotion for Telugu-speaking farmers.

On a personal note, this trip was unforgettable. We were welcomed with great hospitality and generosity. Sadok’s family treated us as if we were part of them, cooking breakfast, lunch and diner for us – and the several chai (tea) it takes to spend a normal day in India. Still, these people are far from being wealthy. Listening to their Shema Israel resonating and reaching heaven was another illustration of their sincere and hopeful faith, leaving us moved and speechless.

March 06, 2008

It has been exactly a month since we first arrived in Mumbai and apart from this symbolic figure we are happy to announce that the website has been visited more than a 1000 times and that Next Year In Mumbai has already raised $6500! Our readers’ community is spreading out and people from Brazil, Australia, Israel and Canada are now reading the blog with interest. Encouraged by your generosity, we are even more convinced the movie has to be made. This gives us the strength to pursue our work and bring you a poignant documentary on being Jewish and Indian in the 21st century. We would like to thank all the donators and readers for their support.
Those facts and figures are a good reason for us to give you a picture of our work among the Bene Israel community and open a new chapter in our story.

During the past weeks we have got the opportunity to compare our Westerners’ ideas to the Bene Israel and Indian reality. Our understanding of the situation has been clarified by the people we’ve met, the places we’ve seen and the events (see the bar-mitsva picture) we were invited to. As we now feel comfortable with the historical and contemporary evolution of the community we are finally ready to direct a documentary showing their future perspectives through our own lenses and sensitivity. Therefore, we will start shooting interviews this week.

Meanwhile, here is what we know about the Bene Israel. They arrived here around 175 BC and have lost most of their spiritual and religious knowledge during what could have been a shipwreck. During 20 centuries and 80 generations, they strived to maintain their Judaism as much as they could while absorbing elements of the Indian social and religious life. Nowadays one can still feel this deep integration through the caste hierarchy and the coconuts offerings that reminds Hindu habits. Therefore, the Bene Israel community proves in a unique way the Jews’ assimilation capacity in Diaspora. Without synagogues until the 18th century and almost no rabbis they still managed to keep bits and parts of Judaism and most of all their faith in belonging to the Promised Land and its people.
Most of those Jews were living in the Konkan region – South of Bombay – before the capital of Maharastra – one of the largest economic poles of India – attracted them with its promises of a better life. Another siren’s allure soon followed this rural exodus and Israel brought them back to its coasts. When the Hebrew state was created in 1948, the total Bene Israel community in India was about 35'000 persons and there are now seven times less. There are only 140 Jews still living in Konkan, about 3500 in Bombay and its suburbs and less than a thousand in the rest of India. According to the official figures they are about 50'000 to 70'000 living in Israel now.

It was first difficult to understand the reasons that pushed the large majority of them to leave a country of such tolerance, a country where they had never been discriminated. After four weeks talking to them we could find some important motivations for this migration: the desire to discover their home land – the one they had been praying for during 2000 years -, better economical perspectives, attraction for a Western society, social welfare and public education.

Promises were late for their rendezvous. Apart from a difficult adjustment to the new lifestyle, Bene Israel suffered from racial discrimination and skepticism to their Judaism but migration was snowballing and those who were remaining in India could hardly imagine how their children would get married inside the community. The migration kept going before gradually diminishing the 90’s. Nowadays, about 50 to 100 people still leave India for Israel every year.

Our documentary film focuses on the families who stayed, on the youngsters growing up in a very different Indian reality. Information technology improvements and more convenient means of transport gave them access to the rest of the Jewish world and opened their eyes to other religious practices. After centuries of basic repetition, people were now given the tools to question their customs. Unfortunately, the number of spiritual options in India seems limited and apart from the Jewish Religious Union, a liberal movement created in the 20’s, most of the congregations don’t focus on the meaning of the prayers and the Torah. The reasons to migrate have changed because the life in India is different from the 50’s when people used to leave Bombay on a boat. Nowadays most of the young Bene Israel have walked on the beaches of Tel-Aviv at least once and they can compare their lifestyle to the Israeli one. They still know that getting married in Israel would be easier but India is changing on a fast pace and is already one of the principle motor-forces governing the world’s economy. For many, starting a career in India could be the best bet.
A deeper knowledge, cheaper flights and a booming country: the cards have been dealt again and the Bene Israel community is redefining its double identity. Reasons to stay or to leave aren’t the same and the dilemma has evolved. Each one is solving the equation in a different way and our documentary aims to voice out those multiple perspectives. We have two month to shoot the movie and share with the world those identity challenges.
Silence. Rolling. Action!

February 25, 2008

Our third week in Bombay is coming to an end, as is our first round of scouting and meeting within the Bene Israel community.

Benjamin Isaac, the director of O.R.T., an international organization founded in Russia, told us the story of Krishna to explain the way his community is stretched between India and Israel. Krishna was adopted when he was very young, and while he felt strongly attached to the woman who brought him up, he always felt an eternal love for his natural mother. This metaphor shed its poetic light on some of the reasons why the majority of the Bene Israel left a country where they had lived peacefully for 2000 years. Later on, Mr. Isaac confessed a very personal paradox: although he married a Christian woman, causing his mother lots of despair, he still felt bothered when his son married a Catholic woman.

Elijah Jacob is the country manager of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (A.J.D.C.), a New York based organization helping Jewish communities throughout the world to maintain and develop. Its action is mostly oriented towards the elderly and the poor, but they also create programs dedicated to adults and the youth. We visited the old people’s house Bayiti, where the nine tenants (60-85 years old) were as enchanted by our visit as we were delighted to listen to their stories. In a very humoristic way, M. Elias Gawulkar was expressing his emotions by readjusting permanently his impressive moustache.
20-year-old Natasha Joseph is the only young Bene Israel employed by the A.J.D.C. From a Jewish father and Hindu-born converted mother, she has dropped religious practice and developed instead a faith in social activism, both towards the Jewish community and her country.

Almost 2’000 Bene Israel (out of the 5’000 Jews in India) live in Thane, a suburb located 21 miles North-East of Bombay. Like many other Mumbaikars (inhabitants of Bombay), the Bene Israel left the city and its expensive rents to settle down in developing cities. The Thane community is the only one to have a Rabbi, M. Abraham Benjamin, who is also an employee of Israeli airline El-Al, for which he manages the preparation of kosher meals. All the other Bene Israel synagogues only survive with hazzanim (cantors). In Mr. Benjamin’s views, keeping the group alive relies more on weddings within the community than training younger rabbis.

Let us now go back to Bombay, whose charming extravagance has been described in previous chronicles. Unfortunately, the global picture is much more terrifying. One should rather think of Bombay as a deserted battlefield where enchanting roses grow here and there. Mathias, who was born in Sao Paulo, often heard Westerners saying his native city was an urban nightmare. They would now define it as a peaceful shelter. Torn apart between slums and wild real estate projects, it seems like the concept of urbanism hasn’t reached Bombay yet. Very few sidewalks deserve that name, unless one enjoys walking through opened up trash bags, urine and cheaply built mattresses. Thousands of bamboo scaffoldings are used to make up the structural problem resulting from the city government’s lack of anticipation. Building sites, dust and continuous noises increase the strength of the pale fog-covered sun, which often turn to be aggressive and tiring.
Although this city is exhausting for one’s senses, Bombay survives thanks to its people’s unbreakable good mood. With an average monthly income under $120, the huge majority is doomed to living in horrifying slums, when they can avoid sleeping on the streets among the rats.

Yesterday, we inadvertently saw two men defecating outdoors. Like 6 million other Mumbaikars, these two have no access to toilets. Misery, dirt, pollution: Bombay’s plagues are ever increasing, with 6000 tons of trash produced every day and 28 millions inhabitants by the year 2015.

The train experience probably recounts the best this city and its unbelievably exaggerated contrasts. Serving 6.3 millions people daily, the train network is a crucial pillar of the city. During rush hour, which sometimes seems to last the whole day, the global fight provoked by a coming train leaves speechless. Within a few seconds, some jump out of the still running engine, bumping in those who the next second are using elbows, shoulders and insults to make their way into the huge, rolling sardine can. Thanks to an undisputable miracle, we managed to be part of the elected sardines, convinced that we had experienced a rehearsal of what an entrance in Hell would be. It was then very surprising to observe Indians smiling like one smiles after a boisterous football game. For the latecomers, the brave or the poetic ones, making the journey in between two cars or on the roof is also considered an option.
These trains might be the only way for Mumbaikars to escape reality: with their heads popping out of the open doors, they distantly watch their city as the wind strokes their faces and the engine’s noise becomes a lullaby. For a moment, they manage to forget Bombay’s inhumanity, making another flower growing from the stumble.

Indians’ unaltered serenity and joyous spontaneity are a great lesson. Let us hope that they will learn how to fight unhealthiness, pollution and especially the lack of infrastructure.

Out of this mess, we have managed to make a livable environment, especially in our neighborhood where we are regulars in several shops and restaurants. Actually, if street- crossing was recognized an Olympic sport, we could definitely be in the France team. It takes agility, reactivity and most importantly a great fate and no fear of dying to penetrate the multidirectional bazaar of cabs, buses, cars, bikes and cycles. Still, we are taking a growing pleasure in going through the experience. Would it be a sign of our becoming Mumbaikars?

February 19, 2008

Second week, in Alibag

We are back from Alibag, a coastal town a few kilometers South of Bombay. It is in that region that the Bene Israel community settled down more than two thousand years ago. Until the 1960’s, hundreds of families were still living there, but nowadays one could count on one’s hand the number of families remaining.

It takes an hour for the boat leaving Bombay to reach the seemingly infinite beaches of the Konkan coast. Escaping the tumultuous city, one would hope to enjoy the quietness of the country life. However, illustrating the fast pace of India’s development, Alibag doesn’t totally deliver. The city has the look of an old, peaceful town brutally woke up by furious urbanization. The superb palm trees, the gorgeous houses falling apart and the near-by beaches contrast with the modern businesses, the ballet of motorcycles and scooters, and the uncountable electric wires that draw a spider web in the sky. This disturbing juxtaposition reaches a sad pinnacle with the hundreds of animals (cows, goats, dogs …) eating the open air waste along the streets. Rather than a continuous feeling, Alibag makes the visitor constantly flip between joy and consternation.

That wasn’t enough though to slow down our “indianisation”. Especially for dishes in gravy, Indians like to eat with their hands. That is how we learnt to (a) mix rice and gravy to get a not-too-dry, not-too-liquid result (b) grab a small portion in the curb of the fingers (c) get it close to the mouth and propel it with the thumb. Properly operated, this technique should leave the palm clean. We are also trying to use the few Maharati words (language spoken in Bombay region) Savitri has taught us. But using words as acha (okay), tshelo (let’s go), danyavad (thank you) and aneek ek menu (one more menu) still doesn’t make us look or sound like natives. Wherever we went, it was impossible not to notice all these eyes staring at us, often with surprise, sometimes with kindness, rarely with indifference.

Five Jewish families still live in Alibag, a striking number for a city where one area is still named “Israel Lane” and where several houses and businesses are decorated with Jewish stars. At the Magen Abot synagogue, a minyan (assembly of at least 10 Jewish men) can only be gathered for the high holidays and during weekdays the hazzan prays alone. The first time we saw Jacob Elijah Dandekar, a short, 74-year-old man with a sparkle in the eyes, he was chanting the morning prayers, standing in front of the ark containing the Sefer Torahs, a talith covering his head and shoulders. No one else was there to join him in his prayers; only the horns and Bolywood rhythms were inviting themselves trough the open windows. It was a strong and weird sensation: were we witnessing the sublime permanence of Judaism rooted in a tropical region of India, or were we in the macabre antechamber of a community about to disappear? If we had not decided to attend Saturday morning prayers, the hazzan Dandekar would have stayed alone with his faith.
Levi David – who came for the Friday night prayers with his two sons – is the sho’het of the community, the one who kills animals according to the laws of kashrut: the animal has to be emptied of its blood with as less pain as possible. This is how we woke up at 7.00 a.m. one day to watch a goat and a few chickens being slaughtered. Not the most mouth-watering breakfast.

On Sunday a moto-rickshaw brought us to Khandala, a holy place for both the Bene Israel and the Hindus. There is a black rock with marks that would have been left by the chariot of prophet Elijah. A few minutes after us, a whole group of Bene Israel arrived from Bombay for their yearly Malida. We had the opportunity to shoot their ritual of pouring coconut water and jasmine flowers on the marks.

Later on, we went to the Bene Israel cemetery of Navgaon, the oldest in India, where there is a stone commemorating the ancestors of the community. According to the legend, it is there that the survivors of the shipwreck settled down and were buried. Currently in a bad shape, the cemetery is underused as very few Jews still live in the area. But in a country where people mostly incinerate their dead, these graves, with their Hebrew and Maharati inscriptions, are a vibrant legacy of the Bene Israel presence in India.

Monday morning, as the boat was taking us back to Bombay, the eternal fog of the Arabian Sea seemed to have vanished. This week we will go to Thana, a suburb of Bombay with the highest concentration of Bene Israel today (around 1’500 people).

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.