Did you know that India is mentioned in the Bible? The Book of Esther tells us that King Ahasuerus ruled Me-Hodu ve-ád Kush...from India to Ethiopia. The Hebrew word for India is Hodu, which also means "praise God." I love that double meaning!
When you think of Purim, you probably think of groggers and hamentaschen. In India, we didn't have either of those. We stamped our feet to drown out the mention of Haman's name, and sent gifts of Middle Eastern and Indian sweets. We did, of course, read the megillah in our special trope. Above, a family heirloom megillah written on deerskin. Each page of the scroll begins with the word hamelech, the king.
Ever go into Starbucks and order a "chai tea," or "chai tea latte?" Since chai means tea in Hindi, you are actually ordering "tea tea"... a knock-off of India's heavenly, rich, spiced milky tea, or masala chai, which quickly becomes a favorite of many of our travelers. The British popularized chai in colonial times. Now it is almost synonymous with India: Chai truly reflects life in India! Chai wallahs--people who make or sell tea on the streets--are ubiquitous in India, offering tea brewed with jaggery (unrefined sugar), ginger, cardamom and other spices, and mixed with warm milk. Chai wallahs revel in pouring a stream of the tea from high above the pot (called pulling the chai), almost like a pizza maker twirls dough high in the air. Often, chai is served in small biodegradable clay cups and enjoyed with savory snacks like samosas.
Check out stories of chai wallahs in different regions of India on this fascinating blog: http://chaiwallahsofindia.com/about/
Here is a simple recipe for cha you can make on your stovetop: https://foodess.com/authentic-indian-chai-tea-recipe/
Join us on our next tours of India, Nov. 7-20, 2019, and Feb, 13-26, 2020, and taste the magic of chai for yourself!
Rahel and Joshua enjoying a cup of chai
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27. 2019.
Throughout history, India has welcomed people from all faiths seeking refuge. India even helped rescue Jews fleeing the Holocaust. German and Indian scholars and filmmakers are now studying this little-known rescue, which may have saved up to 5,000 lives. Those granted refuge usually had exceptional skills--they were musicians, pianists, artists, architects, doctors and dancers. They often became consultants to the maharajas.
One rescuer has even been dubbed India's Oskar Schindler! In 1942, Maharaja "Jam Sahib" of Nawanagar, in the state of Gujarat, became benefactor and father to a group of 1,000 Polish children. including Jews, who had been transported to Siberia. When the Soviet Union joined the Allies, Britian decided to release the children. They traveled by kindertransport via Persia but were refused entry at other ports until they arrived in Bombay (India was under British rule). Jam Sahib found out about their plight and welcomed them to the village of Balachadi. According to Polish sources the maharaja told the children: "You may not have your parents but I am your father now." The children called him Bapu, father. Warsaw even has a Good Maharaja Square!
A documentary, A Little India in Poland, tells this story. http://aakaarfilms.com/little-poland-in-india/
You can read more here: https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-the-indian-oskar-schindler-took-in-1000-polish-children-during-wwii/
Gateway India: by Dr. Margit Franz, has been published in German and is currently being translated into English.
A conference entitled In Global Transit: Jewish Migrants from Hitler's Europe in Asia, Africa and Beyond, was held in Calcutta in 2018.
Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar
And This is What Happened!
I got to know Mayim's mom Beverly very well on our November 2018 tour. Mayim has just published a story about her mom's trip on her blog, GrokNation.com. It's captivating, warm, funny, and personal. I am thrilled and grateful for her fabulous endorsement. Read it here:
A little about the trip in Beverly's own words:
“I found this tour very spiritual, enlightening and consciousness-expanding. The people were like-minded and kind; a zen atmosphere was present (whenever I needed it to be!). We had soooo many Jewish life-altering experiences, and equally as many fun, Indian experiences. Can anyone forget the services in a local synagogue and Shabbat dinner with members of the community under the stars? To balance that out, an elephant ride around—and up—a fortress (oy!). The tour guides led with their hearts, and guided us wisely and well. India, where “Guest IS G-D!”
Bombay Municipal Corporation Building
New York Times "Frugal Traveler" columnist Lucas Peterson has been on the beat...in India!
Mumbai, he writes, "is an electric and complicated city, an extraordinary place, both uplifting and heartbreaking. Its eclectic composition of different groups and cultures makes it a difficult city to define, but for many, it’s a city that represents possibility." It's a "happening" city much like New York.
Peterson spent hours walking the streets of Kolkata and found it the best way to get to know the city. Kolkata's rich literary tradition, strong educational institutions, spicy Bengali cuisine and love of fried street food make the city "a rewarding place to explore."
Peterson also offers India travel tips. Read his stories here:
Peterson does not mention the rich Jewish heritage in both Mumbai and Kolkata. Alongside our exploration of India's general travel sites, that's the specialty we can bring to travelers who join us on our tours.
Magen David Synagogue, Mumbai
December 2018 was a month of celebration in Cochin. The Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry marked its 450th anniversary in the presence of 200 joyous former Cochin residents who traveled from all over the world. They joined the few stalwarts who remain in Jew Town, including Queenie Hallegua and nonagenarian Sarah Cohen.
In nearby Ernakulam, rededicating the centuries-old Kadavambagam Synagogue was a dream come true for Elias “Babu” Josephai, who has maintained the synagogue behind Cochin Blossoms, his garden and aquarium shop. The building, which dates to the 16th or 17th century, had fallen into disrepair and closed in 1972, but a recent campaign to renovate it has restored it to its former beauty. Accompanied by drummers and Hebrew chanting, a Torah from Israel was paraded through Market Street and placed in the newly repainted ark.
Renovated Kadavambagam Synagogue, Ernakulam
Read my story about Cochin's Jewish community, published in Hadassah magazine:
Elias "Babu" Josephai
It's not the age-old debate between latkes and jelly donuts (sufganiot) that intrigues me, but one based on my Indian roots: latkes....or samosas? The way, I figure it, why do you have to choose? Both are scrumptious, potato-ey, sizzling delicacies.
I especially love samosa chaat, a spicy, crispy and tangy street snack in which the samosas are crumbled, mixed with spices and garnished with cilantro and sev, small pieces of crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour (pictured here).
Indulge your taste buds at a local Indian restaurant on one of the nights of Hanukkah!
Or...join us on our next tour of India and taste for yourself.
You can also try these two fusion recipes for samosa-inspired latkes:
Jaipur lit up for Diwali
Our November tour was a great success! We had travelers from across the globe, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Australia and the UK. We all bonded as a family while enjoying India’s amazing hospitality, superb cuisine and breathtaking sites.
We were lucky enough to be in India during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil. Everywhere we went, strings of lights illuminated buildings, festooned monuments, and decorated streets and homes. People flocked to local shops to purchase presents. In Jaipur, the main road was lit up with six-pointed stars. Though they reminded us of the Magen David, they are actually good luck signs in Hinduism. Mouthwatering fried foods like potato-stuffed samosas are a staple of Indian cooking.
Hanukkah, of course, is the Jewish festival of lights! The similarity in our traditions is striking. At this time of divisiveness in the world, it is comforting to know how much we share with others.
The white silk kippah my great-grandfather wore every Yom Kippur in Calcutta is embroidered with light purple squares linked together. Meir Ezra Musleah was a lover of mystical texts, the gabai of the Maghen David Synagogue and a sweet singer. I don’t have a photo of him in this “cap,” as it was called, just one of him in a black cap choosing a chicken for kapparah, atonement, in the open marketplace in Calcutta. He didn’t know that my Uncle Meyer, who was named for him, was taking the photo; he would have considered it a graven image.
When I wear his white kippah myself on Yom Kippur I don’t mind that it is not new, or even that the silk has frayed to the point where you can see the individual threads. It connects me to a beloved person that I wish I could have known, in a time gone by. But I have rediscovered the place and made it my own.
L’Dor Vador. From Generation to Generation.
I took this picture in Bombay's Crawford Market, where vendors sell an amazing array of fruits and vegetables. I love the pomegranate, shown here in its mysterious splendor, sensual and replete with seeds. The rabbis say the pomegranate has 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah! I've counted and it's pretty close!
It's no wonder that the pomegranate is a central symbol for Rosh Hashanah. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews (including Jews from India and Baghdad) use the pomegranate as part of a mini-seder on Rosh Hashanah during which we make blessings on different fruits and vegetables that symbolize our wishes for the new year.
The blessing over the pomegranate is:
Yehi ratzone milfanekha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu, she-nihyeh meleím mitzvot ka-rimon.
May it be your will, our God and God of our fathers, that we should be as full of good deeds as the pomegranate is full of seeds.
Here are some tips on how to cut a pomegranate!
Pomegranates are also healthy for you! Check out 10 top reasons to love the pomegranate:
For more on the Rosh Hashanah seder, please see my book, Apples and Pomegranates.