Did you know it's said that Hinduism has 330 million gods? There is no list, and no one attempts to count, especially since the real number is closer to 33, expanded to express the infinity of the universe. Learning about different religions is a vital part of traveling in India. Here is a sculpture from the 7th-century Elephanta cave temple off the coast of Mumbai, a World Heritage site that we visit in our pre-tours. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Roti, naan, chapati, paratha...bread by any name in India is heavenly. It can be fluffy like naan, crisp and crepe-y like dosa, stuffed and spiced like onion kulcha and aloo (potato) paratha, or made from rice like uttapam. Bread is an integral part of Indian cuisine and reflects a diversity of culture and geography.
Here is a recipe for naan from the New York Times and an easy one from Genius Kitchen:
At the community kitchen at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple in Delhi, volunteers of any faith can sit with others and roll out prepared balls of dough into roti. The kitchen feeds 10,000 people a day! Here I am making roti!
A few years ago, I was honored to be part of a tour of Philip Roth's Newark on the celebration of his 80th birthday and his announced retirement from writing. As I wrote in Hadassah magazine, (link below) the tour bus stopped in front of 81 Summit Avenue and a cadre of unlikely sightseers—mostly professors of English—filed out excitedly in front of a literary landmark: Roth’s childhood home. We milled around despite the rain, taking photos on the stoop and admiring the plaque designating the house a historic site. Unremarkable in its outward appearance, the Colonial-style home nonetheless served as the birthing place for one of America’s most remarkable writers—one who some scholars and critics consider the greatest living American novelist.
Read about Roth here:
I am in no way comparing myself to Roth, but I do know the feeling of attachment to a home, be it a city, a building or a house of worship. They are characters in and of themselves. On my trips to India, I have made "pilgrimages" to the Calcutta sites where my family lived and where their souls still live on.
I wrote about my travels "home" to Calcutta for Hadassah. Here I am at the entrance to 11 Bowbazaar, which had been the Musleah family home for decades. My first tour group (2015) is behind me on the staircase.
Hiring an amazing tour guide doesn't have to be a luxury. Explore Jewish India's main accompanying guide, Joshua Shapurkar, is superb and ensures a memorable and meaningful experience.
Check out this article about hiring a guide in The New York Times and you'll see why Joshua gets 5 stars every time! https://www.nytimes.com/…/trav…/finding-tour-guide-tips.html
Photo by Joan Roth, photographer.
Here's a short Q&A with Joshua:
Q: What do you enjoy about being a tour guide?
A: I love interacting with people, helping them and solving whatever problems arise. I have helped people find lost jewelry and even saved lives!
Q: What are some of your favorite places to visit?
A: I love Kerala because of its lush greenery. I find my inner peace there. Jaipur and Agra have a rich history and stunning monuments. Bombay is my city. I've lived there all my life and I think it's the best place to live. I like the people and the contrasts. It's a vibrant city that's full of life.
Q: What's important for people to know about Jewish India?
A: India is one of the few places in the world with hardly any history of anti-Semitism. Jews have lived here without trouble or fear. We have lived here as proud Indians and proud Jews. That is very rare!
The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. The founders of the synagogues in Calcutta made sure that there would always be at least two Torahs in the ark for perpetuity. At one time the ark (hekhal), which is actually a separate room, held as many as 80 Torahs! The scrolls were encased in wooden cases overlaid with silver or covered with velvet. The Ten Commandments figure prominently in the intricately decorated plaque above.
This is my maternal grandfather. His name was Simon Sion Judah, but I knew him as Nana (pronounced Naa-naa. In many parts of India maternal grandparents are called Nana and Nanee; paternal grandparents are Dada and Dadi.) He came from Baghdad to India by ship as a boy of 14 and married my grandmother Rachel when he was 27.
I thought about him on Shavuot with its many luscious dairy specialties because among his various professions he was a cheesemaker. In fact, he was one of three incredible Jewish cheesemakers in Calcutta.
There were two kinds of cheese, called jibben in Arabic: plain, made into blocks; and plaited, or braided. Kosher vegetarian rennet was ordered from Bombay and added to whole buffalo milk so it would break up into lumps like cottage cheese. My mother remembers that the verandah of their home in Bentinck Street was lined with huge earthenware jars. After the milk was delivered and poured into the jars, he added the rennet and waited for the milk to curdle, Often he was so eager that he would wake up in the early part of the morning to see if it had curdled enough to produce soft curds. He drained the curds, put them into a large cheesecloth, twisted the cloth tightly, turned it over on a flat surface and placed a heavy brick on it. When the cheese solidified, he salted it, cut it into blocks and stored it in the cheese water ready to be purchased.
For plaited cheese, he sliced the plain cheese and cooked it in boiling water over the stove until it became elastic. When it cooled a little, he took it out and braided it. Customers came to his door to buy the cheese, which was not only relished plain, but also enjoyed in the filling of cheese sambusaks. You can still buy fresh cheese and cheese sambusaks at Nahoum’s, the Jewish bakery that continues to operate in Calcutta’s Newmarket. In the U.S., Syrian cheese, which is similar to jibben, is available in specialty Middle Eastern shops.
My grandfather passed away in London in 1976. Yehi Zichro Baruch.
#jewishindia #indianfood #jewishholidays
A floral display at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, Mumbai.
I'm a journalist who loves words, but even I know that sometimes, pictures speak louder than...you know the rest! Each time I lead another tour, I think to myself that I have already snapped hundreds of pictures, and that I will not find anything new to photograph. But India is so full of color and adventure that I cannot resist another angle, another vivid portrait, another sunset over the Taj, another artfully composed bowl of flowers or sumptuous plate of food. I'm always filled with delight at what awaits me around the corner: beautiful, poignant, complex and compelling. I thought I would share some of my photographs from our recent tours in my next few posts. Here's a taste to get started. India truly awakens all the senses!
The Taj Mahal in Agra at sunset.
Women posing at Amer Fort, Jaipur.
Heading out: Elephanta Island, off the coast of Mumbai.
Women's section: Maghen David Synagogue, Calcutta.
Crawford Market, Mumbai.
A school group visiting the Chendamangalam synagogue north of Cochin.
With a new friend at Jantar Mantar Observatory, Jaipur.