The true meaning of celebrating the Torah! All 75 sifrei Torah in the Maghen David Synagogue were taken out of the hekhal, the ark room, and displayed around the perimeter of the sanctuary. This photo was taken by an American soldier stationed in India during World War II.
It gives me goosebumps to look at these old family photos in the sukkah at 11 Bowbazaar, my great-grandparents' and grandparents' home, where my father was born and grew up, and also at 81/8 Bentinck Street, where my immediate family lived. My father and my sister Flora are featured in the first photo (he's teaching her something, as usual!), followed by a photo of the family (well, the men, anyway) singing and reading the night away. The Musleahs lived on the second floor of 11 Bowbaazar, and the sukkah was built on the verandah. The frame of the sukkah stayed up all year. The roof was made out of palm leaves, which are very large and flat, and so can be woven together into mats. A variety of fruits hung from the roof--grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, even pineapples! Purple, blue, green, yellow and white glass lanterns (fanous) decorated the arches, as did balloons in matching colors; strings of colorful electric lights (we didn't worry about the December Dilemma), and shiny crinkly papers called chunchuns that streamed in the breeze. From the street below, you could see the sukkah ablaze with light and beauty from blocks away.
When we moved to Philadelphia, we lived in an urban neighborhood and there was no place for a sukkah. Our new synagogue, Mikveh Israel, had a glorious sukkah that the congregation spent days decorating with strings of cranberries, beans, and other harvest vegetables. I remember the petit fours that were specially served for kiddush! At home, we tried to replicate the feeling of the Calcutta Sukkot celebration by singing many beautiful and beloved pizmonim: Sukkah V'lulav, Et Dodim Kallah, Ha'él Ha'ira U'réh, and my father's favorite, Yisrael Am El/Yotzer Or Bahir. He always reminded us that once, while he was singing Yotzer Or Bahir (Creator of Bright Light), he could suddenly see the dazzling orb of the moon rising on the east side of the sukkah.
May our own sukkot be filled with such luminous splendor!
Listen to the song here:
From Hodu: Jewish Rhythms from Baghdad to India.
Adonai b'kol shofar,...This beautiful liturgical poem in the Sephardic tradition is recited before the blowing of the shofar.
God is exalted with the clarion call of the shofar: Tekiyah, Shevarim, Teruah.
The sound of teruah, nine staccato blasts in the Ashkenazic tradition, is a long, wavy tone but it's unbroken.
In preparation for hearing the shofar blasts, the men would cover their heads with their tallitot (prayer shawls).
Today, women who wear tallitot can do that, too!
After the blessing for blowing the shofar is recited, and before the first blowing of the shofar only,
the congregation in Calcutta would sit instead of remaining standing, "to confuse the accuser,” Satan.
Listen here to Hon Tahon, a song for the second day of Rosh Hashanah:
We stand trembling before God, asking for mercy, beseeching God to seal us upon God's heart.
The song is recorded on my CD, Hodu: Jewish Rhythms from Baghdad to India.
Thanks to Alan Iny for singing with me. You can order the CD here: www.rahelsjewishindia.com
My life as a journalist takes me to some fascinating places. A few months ago I was privileged to visit Nepal and learn about the work of Tevel B'Tzedek, "the earth in justice," a groundbreaking organization founded by rabbi, activist and journalist Micha Odenheimer. In the past ten years, nearly a thousand Jewish participants have helped 40,000 poor and marginalized people in Nepal's slums and villages.
Read more about my experiences and about the organization in my article in Hadassah magazine:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is paying an historic visit to Israel--the first by an Indian head of government since diplomatic ties between the two countries were established 25 years ago. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the two leaders would sign an agreement for a $40 million innovation fund. The visit is expected to boost economic and defense ties.
Modi fit in time for a personal visit to Moshe Holtzberg, the son of the Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who died in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Moshe, who was 2 years old at the time, was rescued by his nanny, Sandra Samuels, and is now living with his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg. "I love you Mr Modi," said 11-year-old Moshe, adding that wants to become director of the Chabad House in Mumbai when he grows up. "We have not been forgotten...Indians share our pain,” said Rosenberg. Samuels, who moved to Israel with Moshe, is now an honorary Israeli citizen. Modi also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum.
The Chabad House has been restored and reopened since the attack, but Moshe's abandoned and bullet-ridden room has been left intact. Here are photos from the visits we have made during our tours.
My music is making it to Bollywood! Shalom, Bollywood, that is--a new film about Jewish women in Indian cinema. Producer and director Danny Ben-Moshe, an award-winning Australian-based filmmaker, (Identity Films), has reached out to me to use tracks from my CD, Hodu: Jewish Rhythms from Baghdad to India, in the documentary.
Inspired by pop culture...music, film and literature!
Shavuot is traditionally a holiday of luscious dairy dishes, based on the biblical description of Israel as a land of milk and honey.
If you want an addition or a change from blintzes and cheesecake, try these classic cheese samboosaks, a favorite among the Baghdadi Jews of India. They are my family's go-to comfort food with a cup of chai tea ll year-round.
Here is my mother's recipe. When we first came to the U.S. from Calcutta in the 1960s, she didn't know how to cook at all, since we had a cook in India. Cheese samboosaks were one of the first foods she tried in her American kitchen to recreate a taste of home. She and my father make them together.
Her recipe is followed by a link to food writer Tori Avey's website. Tori converted to Judaism, and married an Israeli, so she is especially interested in exploring Jewish cuisine and food history. She shared this recipe for Purim, but it is equally great for Shavuot and... just about anytime.
1 cup self-rising flour ½ lb. mozzarella, ½ lb. cheddar, grated
3 cups plain flour l Tbsp. plain flour
½ cup oil 5 eggs (about), beaten
1 cup tepid water (approx.) Pinch of cayenne pepper
Mix flour and oil in bowl. Add ¾ cup of the water, and add the last quarter-cup gradually until it becomes a soft dough. If after one cup the dough is still stiff, add an additional teaspoon of water at a time. You do not have to knead it like bread. When you think you are done, pinch a piece off and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hands. Cover the bowl with wax paper or towel so the dough doesn’t dry out.
Put the grated cheese in another bowl, and gradually add the beaten eggs, stirring until the mixture is moist enough to hold. Add the tbsp. of flour and mix together. The mixture must not be too stiff or too liquid. If it is stiff, add one or two more eggs.
Shape the dough into small balls. Place the balls one a time on a floured board and roll to a small, thin circle with a rolling pin. Place one heaped teaspoon of the cheese mixture on one half of the circle, fold over the other half and press the edges firmly together. Cut around the edges with a dough cutter or sharp knife. Discard or reuse the dough that is cut away.
Place samboosaks on a greased baking sheet and bake in 375 degree oven for 18 minutes. Makes about 36.
Tori Avey's Recipe:
Here is an Israeli children's song sung by Liora Isaac. Enjoy!
Everything you need to know to visit Kochi. Published in Hadassah magazine's fabulous travel column.