This past December, I was thrilled to be one of the presenters at LimmudUK, a festival of Jewish study and culture that took place in Birmingham, England. Limmud started in the UK and has become a global movement of communities in 42 countries with a great impact on creating leadership, connection, identity, learning, and diversity. I taught children and adults about the history, heritage and customs of the Jews of India.
When I arrived I knew only one person among the 2,500 people from dozens of countries who chose from innumerable workshops over the course of 5 days, or longer if they came for Shabbat. My experience of meeting people was a lot like speed dating. I sat down randomly next to people at meals, sessions and concerts. I chatted with them in long lines waiting for the dining room to open.
Invariably I left with new acquaintances and memorable stories—many with India or Baghdad connections. I learned a remarkable story from a woman named Ruth Bloomfield: her partner’s parents had been Eastern European refugees to India who had met and married in Bombay.
After leading a Shabbat morning Torah service in the progressive minyan, Jeremy Jacob approached me and told me about his Calcutta background. A senior lecturer in computer science at the University of York, Jeremy is especially proud of his uncle, four-star Indian General Jack Jacob, whose daring strategy in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 changed the course of Southeast Asian history.
Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, who coordinated the service and is community educator for the Reform movement in the UK, studied Hinduism in college and had traveled in India for three months. Her husband Gary knew many Baghdadi-Indian melodies from Ohel David, the Baghdadi synagogue in London that he used to attend regularly. Rabbi Debbie even followed me on Instagram before we ever met in person! (You can follow me, too, @explorewjewishindia.com)
I met other presenters who are transmitting the legacies of their communities through their own voices. Deborah Eliezer is a California artist who has dramatized her feelings about her father’s Iraqi heritage in her one-woman play: (dis)Place[d]; Israeli Maureen Nehedar sings the songs of the Persian Jewish community. After the conference, I visited with my cousins whose families had settled in London after leaving India. And I enjoyed being a tourist!
Limmud broadened my appreciation of global Judaism. To truly absorb the understanding that Jews live and flourish in every corner of the world is not something you can really learn from a newspaper or a textbook. It’s something to be experienced in person.
That’s one of my goals in bringing groups to India. We share an experience--not only by visiting India's magnificent sites but also by meeting its people.
Click here to learn more and register now for our November 2020 tour. Check out the new video of rave reviews from our last tour!
Learn more about Limmud here:
With Maureen Nehedar at Limmud
Dina Samteh, 22, who was born in India and is part of the Bnei Menashe tribe, says that for her, "music is everything."
Dina has been blind since the age of 6, but that has not stopped her from using her beautiful voice. Today, she is a vocalist with the Shalva Band, whose members have a range of disabilities.
When she was 10, Dina's family made aliyah from Manipur, India. She learned Hebrew through music, singing with her mother, a guitarist. As a teenager, Dina volunteered at Shalva (serenity), the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, which provides leading-edge therapies, inclusive educational frameworks, social and recreational activities, employment training, and independent living for people with disabilities. There, she met Shai Ben Shushan, the director of the Shalva Band. Ben Shushan was part of an elite army unit when he suffered a life-threatening injury 13 years ago. His successful rehab at Shalva motivated to give back to those who had helped him--and he formed the band.
The band rose to fame after entering the 2019 finals on the Israeli TV show “Rising Star,” which determines which musical act will represent Israel at the international Eurovision Song Contest. The band won, but dropped out because Eurovision rehearsals take place on Shabbat, and some of the band members are Shabbat-observant. However, Shalva was invited to performed as guest artists; their performance that went viral and changed how millions of people view and embrace disability.
Watch their performance of A Million Dreams here:
Click to learn more about the Shalva Band.
Click here to hear Dina's story.
For my just-published story about b'nai mitzvah of children with disabilities in the U.S., click here.
Rahel Musleah was born in Calcutta, India, the seventh generation of a Calcutta Jewish family that traces its roots to 17th-century Baghdad.