In anticipation of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Curly Orli and I are making cute froggies. It is true that frogs were one of the Ten Plagues, but frogs are also believed to be the bringers of spring! These days, they are happily hopping around in parks and forests after a long winter slumber. Now, you can have one of them at home … a Plasticine one, that is.
1. Prepare green Plasticine. Separate it into pieces for different body parts: eyes, head, torso and two pairs of legs.
2. Using white and blue Plasticine, make eyes. With the help of a toothpick, make a nose by poking two holes, then a mouth and, finally, add a red tongue.
3. From earlier prepared pieces, let’s make a lower part of the body and legs. Attach them together.
4. Connect upper and lower body. The froggy is ready!!!
5-6. Our froggy is festive and joyous, so let’s give him a beautiful flower. We can make petals from various small and round colorful Plasticine pieces by making them pointy at the end.
7. Let’s add petals to the flower and connect them to the stem.
8. Now, we will give this flower to the froggy. Our creation is complete.
Happy Passover to all the readers of the Jewish Independent! We wish you peace, joy and new creative adventures.
Lana Lagoonca is a graphic designer, author and illustrator. At curlyorli.com, you will find more free lessons, along with information about Curly Orli merchandise.
Beet salad from Gluten-Free Goes Gourmet. (photo by Ruchy Schon)
At least three times a year – Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover – I liven up my dinner menus by trying out some new recipes from recently published cookbooks. I don’t keep a kosher kitchen, I’m not gluten or dairy intolerant, nor am I diabetic or allergic to corn, yet I ventured this spring to try Vicky Pearl’s Gluten-Free Goes Gourmet (Moznaim Publishing Co.), which actually came out last September. While many of the recipes may be appropriate for Pesach meals, many are not chametz-free, particularly in the dessert section – but they’ll make for delicious treats after the holiday.
There are more than 100 recipes in Gluten-Free Goes Gourmet; most are easy-to-follow and quick to make (even without a mixer), but others require a few hours (preparation plus cooking time), so make sure to plan ahead and carefully read through the recipes before setting about to make them. Everything I tried in Gluten-Free Goes Gourmet turned out just like the photos (which are lovely) and, with the exception of the kugel – which, for some reason, I couldn’t get to the quite the right consistency and which had too much salt for my liking – everything tasted great. There was one typo in the book that I came across: the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe makes almost four-dozen cookies, not 18, as indicated.
Gluten-Free Goes Gourmet contains useful information on many of the ingredients used in the recipes, including their nutritional benefits. It has numerous sections: dips and drinks, salads, soups, meat and poultry, fish, mock dairy, side dishes, breads, desserts, and cakes and cookies. It would have been nice to experiment with these last chapters more, as the cookies I made were so delicious – and all indications are that the other gluten-free desserts and breads will be just as tasty.
The following recipes will give readers an idea of how good “free” eating can be. Enjoy!
Try to buy beets that are uniform in size, since they’ll cook more evenly. As an added bonus, smaller beets are sweeter.
10 beets, peeled 1 red onion
Dressing: 1/2 cup liquid from cooked beets or water 1/3 cup vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/4 cup agave, xylitol or granulated sugar 1/4 cup oil 2 tsp kosher salt 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
Place beets in an eight-to-10-quart pot (depending on size of beets); cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Cook for one or two hours, maintaining a rolling boil, or until beets are tender enough that the tines of a fork meet with little resistance. Reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water, remove beets from water. Cool slightly. Slice beets according to your preference.
Place beets in a serving bowl; add onions. In a separate small bowl, mix together dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over vegetables, tossing gently until well coated. For best results, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Yields eight to 10 servings.
CREAM OF ZUCCHINI SOUP
5 large zucchinis, scrubbed clean, washed and cut into thirds 3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters 1 large onion, halved 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1-2 tbsp (heaping) kosher salt
Place all ingredients into an eight-quart pot. Fill three-quarters full with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to medium; cook, with lid slightly ajar, for half an hour.
Place immersion blender in pot; blend until smooth.
Makes eight to 10 servings. Freezes very well for up to six months: chill before freezing and thaw in refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together eggs and oil. Change paddle attachment to a dough hook.
Add sesame seeds, salt, flour, potato starch, onion and garlic to bowl; mix well.
Divide dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, roll out between layers of parchment paper to 1/16th of an inch thickness.
Remove the top parchment paper; transfer the dough with the parchment paper still under it to a cookie sheet. Cut into one-by-three-inch rectangles. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake in preheated oven 14 to 16 minutes or until golden.
Allow crackers to cook on parchment paper on rack.
Yields 60 crackers and the crackers freeze well for up to two months. They will store well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
1/4 cup oil 3 cloves garlic, minced 3 large onions, sliced thinly 1 lb shoulder steak or pepper steak, or 4 pieces minute steak 1 cup semi-dry red wine 1 bay leaf 1 tsp kosher salt 1/2 tsp dried minced garlic 1/4 tsp dried rosemary leaves (optional) 1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic; brown for about one minute. Add onions; sauté until translucent, three to five minutes.
Add steak, wine, bay leaf and spices. Increase heat to high; bring to a boil. Add five cups water; return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, covered, for two to two-and-a-half hours or until meat is tender. Remove bay leaf before serving.
Makes four servings. Freezes very well for up to six months.
5 large eggs 1 cup oil 2 tbsp (heaping) kosher salt 10 large Idaho/russett potatoes (about 5 lbs), peeled and cut in half lengthwise 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs until lightly beaten. Whisk in oil and salt.
In a food processor fitted with the blade with tiny holes and working in batches, process potatoes and onion until almost smooth. Transfer potato mixture to bowl, blending well with egg mixture.
Pour mixture into a parchment-paper-lined nine-by-13-inch baking pan.
Bake in centre of preheated oven for one hour or until top is browned. Reduce heat to 350°F. Bake for two hours.
Yields 12 generous servings.
OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 cup peanut butter 1/4 trans-fat-free margarine, room temperature (1/2 stick) 3/4 cup agave 1/2 cup xylitol or granulated sugar 2 large eggs 1 1/4 tsp baking soda 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 2/3 cup chocolate chips (sugar-free, if you prefer)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
In an electric mixer, cream together peanut butter, margarine, agave and xylitol (or sugar). Add eggs and baking soda. Mix well.
Stir in oats and chocolate chips until well combined.
Use a tablespoon to drop spoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake in centre of preheated oven for 11 minutes or until golden yet soft. Do not overbake. Remove to rack to cool completely.
Veganism is about much more than dietary choice. It is an ethical philosophy based on the belief that other animals are not ours to use. Like humans, animals are sentient: they experience pain and pleasure, they suffer and they form deep emotional bonds with others in their families and communities. Vegans do not use animals for food, clothing, entertainment or animal experimentation regardless of taste, pleasure or tradition. Being a vegan is also much more commonplace today, as is following a vegan diet for health reasons. This means it might not be unusual to find a vegan at your table on Passover.
For the fourth year in a row, my wife and I will be hosting an all-vegan Passover seder, or “veder,” as we call it. We started this tradition after a group of Jewish vegan friends expressed how alienating it can be to celebrate the holiday in the traditional way. As ethical vegans, it is difficult to sit at a table laden with the body parts of the nonhuman animals that we are working to protect and rescue. Many had stopped attending their family dinners, and one friend was no longer invited simply because others felt uncomfortable when she passed up most of the food on the table. But our hunger for the Jewish tradition of Passover remained.
The Passover seder commemorates our liberation from Pharaoh and the larger issue of the immorality of slavery. As Jews, we have a long history of suffering, oppression and slavery and, as animal activists, this has informed our choices to work to help others end their own oppression – including animals. It’s no wonder Jews have played key roles in other movements such as civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and animal rights. The liberation of animals is another social justice movement for which the Jewish community should naturally feel empathy. Jews and vegans share common values such as justice, fairness, equality and compassion.
How we as animal activists celebrate the meaning of the Passover seder is to remember the evils of the past and to expand our circles of compassion and justice so that no group, human or nonhuman, need experience the suffering and exploitation of being different or unequal. Passover is a great opportunity to reflect on how we can create less suffering for all those who are oppressed through our personal behaviors and choices.
Simply adding vegan foods and vegan versions of traditional dishes to the table is a way of making a statement that we include the most vulnerable and innocent among us when we celebrate this holiday. These days, it’s as simple as Googling “vegan [whatever dish] recipe,” vegan or “vegan Passover recipes,” and thousands of animal-free options will magically appear. At our veder, we serve all of the traditional dishes we grew up eating – matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel, macaroons – in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs.
With a little effort and creativity, your entire seder dinner can be made vegan. We even have an animal-friendly seder plate. Instead of a lamb shank bone, we use a dog cookie-cutter to make a playful bone-shaped piece of tofu. Instead of an egg, we use a small dab of commercial “egg replacer” used in vegan baking. I encourage all Jews to embrace the meaning and tradition of the holiday while also incorporating new traditions that reflect values of justice, ethics and compassion. When we can celebrate the holiday without doing any harm to others, why wouldn’t we?
VEGAN CHOPPED LIVER
Adapted from The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook by Roberta Kalechofsky and Roda Rasiel (Micah Publications, 1997).
1/2 lb brown lentils 1 large onion, diced 2 tbsp olive oil 1 cup walnuts salt and pepper to taste
1. Put lentils in a two- or three-quart pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, partially cover and simmer until tender, about 30-40 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure water has not boiled off, and add water as needed.
2. Sauté onions in olive oil until golden and tender. Allow to cool slightly.
3. Drain lentils and blend, along with the walnuts and onions, in a food processor until homogenized, but leave some of the texture intact.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill about two hours.
Gary Smith, co-founder of Evolotus, a PR agency working for a better world, blogs at thethinkingvegan.com and has written for many publications. He and his wife are ethical vegans and live in Los Angeles with their cat Chloe and two beagles rescued from an animal testing laboratory, Frederick and Douglass.
(Editor’s note: Some vegan recipes will contain ingredients that are not strictly kosher for Passover. For those who are less strict, the options abound. For more strict kosher diets, incorporate dishes that are heavier on fruits and vegetables, and avoid using legumes, like lentils, or products that contain wheat or gluten. Also, only certain egg substitutes are kosher for Passover, and many Ashkenazi Jews abstain from eating kitniyot on Passover; tofu is made from soybeans, and is considered to be kitniyot.)
Why would someone who had a “perfect” life trade it in for a different one? Fifteen years ago, I did just this. And, no, I didn’t leave the husband or abandon the kids or take off to Fiji. I was a Canadian, secular, Jewish, urban, working mom with young kids, piles of laundry to do and diapers to change. Yet, something was missing; in those precious micro-moments when I had time for a small thought, I realized I wanted to learn how to teach my children values.
Yes, I had taken multiple parenting classes and workshops, enrolled my young kids in art classes, library groups and bought tickets for every cultural show that came to town. They saw Chinese acrobats, Balinese shadow puppets and the Bolshoi Ballet. It was all enriching, entertaining and cosmopolitan, but not substantive and enduring. Until I took a class taught by a rabbi – and then another. And another.
The wisdom they offered was enlightening, profound, inspiring. My husband and I learned more and more, diving into an enriched, exciting new world.
Before we could utter the words “shomer Shabbos,” we had become Torah-observant Jews. We turned our lives upside down, even trading in a designer, ceramic kitchen sink for a kasherable version.
After a year, my family was 100 percent certifiably kosher and Shabbat observant. My husband and I enrolled our children in religious Jewish schools and we moved closer to the Orthodox shul. But we soon discovered that living in a Torah-observant community was more complex than wearing a head covering and going to shul. We also realized that our Jewish journey had only just begun.
We were ba’alei teshuvah (BT), newly Observant Jews. We had learned a lot and felt that we knew nothing, just like the light bulb joke that asks how many ba’alei teshuvah it takes to change a light bulb? Answer: is it allowed?
Is it? Can we do this? What will the neighbors think? Will our kids be accepted? I agonized over these thoughts and dreaded “Jewish geography” at the Shabbos table, fearing my past would be unmasked. I wanted to fit in seamlessly.
In our early BT days, we tried to belong in our new religious community, yet understood that we did not belong anywhere. Our secular friends and family shook their heads in dismay, labeling us crazy, while the religious Jewish community thought we were unusual. So, our close friends became other ba’alei teshuvah and, together, we would share inspiring stories, confide our blunders and insecurities and laugh out loud at our outrageous, most embarrassing mistakes. Those Shabbat meals spent with BT friends were funny, meaningful and stranger than fiction and, over the years, provided great material for my first novel.
Some of my BT friends molded themselves until they fit snugly into their newly adoptive Orthodox communities. And they felt fulfilled.
For others, myself included, it was not an easy fit, as I did not want to reinvent everything about myself; I just wanted a “kosher” version of me. I struggled with this for years and eventually decided to embrace my past and not hide from it.
Secular or religious, I learned that all Jews have something unique and important to contribute. Yet, we have to first respect each other so we can learn from one another.
Unfortunately, there is a disconnect and distrust between the secular and Orthodox communities, both in North America and in Israel. And, sadly, the Jewish people are a small, fragile and threatened nation. Now, more than ever, we must develop tolerance and respect, and reach out to support each other. As Rav Kook explained in his commentary Ein Aya, truth is built from different viewpoints and positions. Only this enriches wisdom and brings peace.
Forget Fiji. Life is a journey filled with countless opportunities to grow together. May we take the path that helps us understand our differences so we can respect each other.
Nicole Nathan is the author of the novel Let My RV Go!, a humorous, insightful look at becoming religious that seeks to bridge the gap between secular and observant Jews. It is available in paperback and as an ebook.
Holon Children’s Museum is a children’s museum unlike any other. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Take small kids with you to Israel and one thing is for sure: you’ll want to have more on your itinerary than holy sites and 2,000-year-old ruins. Fortunately, this small country has a diverse range of fun family attractions that appeal to toddlers, kids and preteens. From a biblical zoo to a chocolate factory and science museum, here are some highlights that will keep your kids smiling in the Holy Land.
Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (jerusalemzoo.org.il). This 100-acre zoo started as a petting zoo in the 1940s and now includes more than 300 species, a quarter of them animals that were mentioned in the Bible, such as Syrian brown bears, Persian fallow deer, Asian lions, Nile crocodile and the Asian leopard. There are also many non-biblical animals in this expansive zoo, which easily takes a half-day to explore. Look out for Sumatran tigers, a rhino and a hippo, giraffes, kangaroos, wolves and fruit bats. Many of the animals are under threat of extinction. Israel is the only country in the Middle East offering protection to wolves, for example, and the wolf exhibit tries to raise awareness on how wolves and people can live in harmony. Open year round, the zoo charges $28 for admission for adults and $11 for kids.
Bloomfield Science Museum (mada.org.il). When it first opened 21 years ago, the Jerusalem museum was the only one in the country: today, it’s one of four. Its interior is far from fancy, but it more than compensates in its wide range of innovative exhibits, a selection geared to entertain and engage all age groups, from 3 through 83. “Hands-on” is the theme here and, in every exhibit, visitors are encouraged to touch, play and explore. We visited during Chanukah, when the museum had set up a station for kids to build their own unique spinning tops using recycled materials. We loved the light and shadow exhibit, a labyrinth of rooms that combine art with the science of how light and shadow interact. Other exhibits explain the connection between physics and how amusement parks work, how electricity is distributed, and how science and technology play out in some of Israel’s favorite children’s stories. Free for kids under five, the museum charges $12 for kids and adults or $45 for families.
Galita Chocolate Factory (galita.co.il). Combine kids and chocolate and the result is delight, especially if the experience includes making your own treats. The chocolate factory at Kibbutz Degania on the Sea of Galilee offers a selection of kid-focused workshops with various candy-making projects, from building and decorating a miniature chocolate candy house to creating chocolate lollipops, truffles and more. Kids play with mixtures of white and brown chocolate and carefully decorate their creations before the finished versions are refrigerated and taken home. An on-site chocolate shop sells the creations of Galit Alpert, the Belgium-trained Israeli owner whose delicacies are irresistible. Prices range from $11-$22 per person, depending on the project, and reservations are recommended.
Holon Children’s Museum (childrensmuseum.org.il or 03-6503000, ext. 3). Don’t be fooled by its name – this is a children’s museum unlike any other you’ll ever set foot in. Its four segments cater to vastly different age groups. Kids age nine and up will love Dialogue in the Dark, an exhibit wherein visitors get to experience what it is like to have no vision by taking a tour in complete darkness, in the company of blind guides. Along the way, they experience the various rooms they enter by relying on their other senses. Likewise, in Invitation to Silence, adults and kids age 10 and up get immersed in a tour of silence, one wherein they need to use other methods of communication – hands, face and body – to communicate emotions and reactions. In Dialogue with Time, visitors explore the concept of aging through experiences and games. They’re invited to identify various songs and objects that crisscross the generation gap, and to experience what it feels like to lose dexterity in the hands and feet by donning special gloves and shoes. Talking figurines reflect on their different experiences of aging and the entire experience invites discussion, dialogue and contemplation on what it means to age gracefully. Finally, in the only segment of the museum that remotely resembles a typical children’s museum, children ages 4-8 get to explore the making of music and art using unconventional instruments and objects, led by actor guides. Each tour lasts between 90 minutes and 1.5 hours and costs $15 per segment. Reservations are essential.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Inside Bordeaux’s Grand Synagogue of the Gironde. (photo by Karen Ginsberg)
On a recent trip to the Basque, my husband and I learned a great deal about the strong Jewish presence that formerly existed in the region.
The Basque country comprises southwestern France and northeastern Spain. Our journey started in Bordeaux, France, which, strictly speaking, is not part of the Basque. Rather, Bordeaux is the capital of the neighboring Aquitaine region. Our sightseeing there included a visit to the Grand Synagogue of the Gironde, located in central Bordeaux, serving a Jewish population of 1,100. A 2007 brochure given to us on our visit, History of the Jewish Population of Bordeaux, dates the synagogue back to the 1880s, the land for it having been a gift from the city. On the morning of our visit, a young man, soon to be a bar mitzvah, was just finishing his practise session on the bimah, which gave life to the building.
From Bordeaux, we traveled by train two hours southwest to St. Jean de Luz, a mid-size town on the Atlantic coast that is part of the French Basque, where we had rented an apartment. We found our most substantive Jewish Basque connection on a day trip to nearby Bayonne.
Musée Basque et de l’histoire de Bayonne is a modernized space housing the history and culture of the people of the region. Within, there is a special exhibit that celebrates the presence of Jews in the Basque since the 1600s. The roots of the Jewish community there stem from the migration that took place when the Jews were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.
Among the collection of artifacts is a beautiful portrait of Augusta Furtado, who, in the 17th century, was a merchant and president of the Israelite Consistory of Bayonne, as well as twice serving as Bayonne’s mayor. The collection also includes furniture and religious objects from a private synagogue in the 19th century, including an ark, menorah and pulpit, a child’s temple presentation dress, circa 1885, a shofar, an 18th-century mezuzah and a sabbatical lamp from a Portuguese ceremony that was used in Bordeaux and Bayonne. One of the most interesting items is a document dated Jan. 19, 1753, entitled The Statues of the Jewish Nation of Saint Esprit, a reiteration of the royal protective orders of 1550 in which the title Jew is used for the first time instead of the term New Christian or Portuguese.
A further Jewish connection in the region has to do with one of the sources of Bayonne’s current fame as a world centre for the manufacture of high-quality chocolate. The chocolate-making skills of the exiled Spanish Jews who settled in the area were put to use. Their contribution to the industry is told at some length in the self-guided tour of the city’s delightful l’Atelier du chocolat. Both my husband and I felt compelled to enjoy a generous chocolate-tasting at the atelier out of respect for our ancestors!
Bayonne has a beautiful synagogue in the core of city, but it is locked behind steel gates with no one available to provide any information on whether and how the building is being used, if at all. Nevertheless, an inscription carved onto the exterior of the synagogue speaks volumes about the vision the community had for this holy place: “Ma maison sera denommée une maison de prières pour toutes les nations.” (“My house will be marked as a house of prayer for all nations.”)
Signage outside the synagogue gates draws further attention to the pride that the community had in being able to build its own shul: “This place of worship for the Bayonne Jewish community was built in the 19th century by architect Capdeville. The monumental neo-classical-style building illustrates the wish of the community’s leaders to assert the presence of Judaism in the heart of the district and also to provide a single place of worship for the faithful, replacing the private synagogues used previously.”
Our last daylong outing – to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France – metaphorically closed a circle for us with respect to early Jewish life in the Basque region.
These days, it seems, almost everyone knows someone who has undertaken the six-week walk referred to as the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James). This medieval pilgrimage runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, near the Spanish border, more than 750 kilometres northwest of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. There is generally a degree of wonderment and respect accorded to anyone who has retraced those steps. One has only to walk the steep main street of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to understand that there is a hardship to be endured no matter how solid one’s walking shoes or how well-organized is today’s network of rest places along the route. Being in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port surrounded by modern-day pilgrims at the start of their journey brought to my mind how different their trek would be to that of the expelled Spanish Jews. I could not help thinking what it must be like to have to flee one’s home under threat of death, travel on foot, by cart and, for some, partially by boat, to hopefully reach the safety of new lands. These Jewish travelers had no fancy walking shoes, no “service centres” along their route and they most certainly traveled with fear in their hearts.
My husband and I left the Basque knowing that there were likely many other remnants of a Jewish presence in the area yet to be discovered. Our curiosity peaked, it’s a challenge we will hopefully be able to take up on a future visit.
Karen Ginsberg is a travel writer living in Ottawa.
Steven Finkleman in front of the restored Chennamangalam Synagogue. (photo by Steven Finkleman)
I had bought my airline ticket to Mumbai in the fall, aiming to track down the remains of the Jewish community in India. I set out with my backpack on Jan. 9 and, after several days, arrived. I had pre-booked a stay at Sassoon House, which is a residence for Jewish travelers at Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai.
Lufthansa pulled in at 2:30 a.m. Perfect time for arrival into a strange city of 18,000,000 people. Somehow, I found a taxi and a Western traveler who wanted to share the ride with me. And, somehow, I managed to give some direction to the synagogue, which is currently situated in the predominantly Muslim district of Byculla. It does take a bit of guts.
We pulled into the synagogue compound around 3:30 a.m. under the watchful eyes of Mumbai’s finest, accompanied by huge spotlights, army tanks and AK47s (all in response to the terrorist attack at a Mumbai synagogue five years ago). I was as cool as a cucumber. My taxi partner at this point was in apoplectic shock.
Fortunately, Mr. David, the caretaker of Sassoon House did answer the phone and let me in for four hours of rest, prior to attending the Shacharit service for Shabbat at 8:45 a.m. Interesting service. I was #11 in attendance, so was superfluous to the congregation. (I often have been #10 in these circumstances, serving as the final man needed to allow the service to proceed.) The service was rapid, Sephardi Orthodox, and the accent of the Baghdadi congregation made following along somewhat challenging. The familiar tunes of the Barchu, the Shma, the Amidah, the Aleinu, were absent and keeping up with the service required heavy concentration on my part after a 36-hour flight and four hours of sleep.
I received an aliyah to the Torah and, when I gave my name as Zalman ben Yaacov, Zalman being a Yiddish name and, therefore, totally unheard of in Mumbai, they interpreted my name as Solomon, and called me up as Shlomo ben Yaacov. Lunch at the rabbi’s home followed. Considerable gin was flowing (considering it was a former British colony) accompanied by lots of traditional Judeo-Marathi songs. I was forced to sing a representative Canadian song and led them all in a rousing version of “Allouette.” The luncheon ended with everyone sharing some snuff! As they all snorted away, I was sure to ask, “Are you certain that this is only tobacco?” before trying some myself.
The Indian community goes back about 2,000 years. Some date it to the expulsion after the destruction of the First Temple, others to after the destruction of the Second Temple. The community has four components.
The Bene Israel and Cochin communities came both around the same time. The Cochin community was likely from seafarers and merchants, possibly dating back to King Solomon’s time. The Bene Israel community around Mumbai dates from a shipwreck 2,000 years ago where seven men and seven women survived. Their holy books were lost, but they remembered to keep the Shabbat, kashrut and brit milah. Generations later, they were tutored by the Cochini community to improve their knowledge of Judaism.
The third community to arrive was the Paradesi community. Paradesi means foreigner, and this group was basically Sephardim who arrived from Spain or via Amsterdam in the 16th century, and headed to Cochin. The fourth group, led by David Sassoon, emigrated from Baghdad, and came in the 18th century, setting up congregations in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. The Sassoon dynasty was very dynamic both for the Jewish community and the Mumbai community at large.
There are several residual synagogues in Mumbai, with some still in use, such as the Baghdadi community’s Magen David (where I stayed) and Keneseth Eliyahoo, along with the original Bene Israel community’s Tiferet Israel synagogue. Five thousand Jews remain in Mumbai, and three or four synagogues hold services on Shabbat. Tiferet Israel has a strong component of younger men.
I was lucky to travel to Cochin (now called Kochi) in Kerala state and, besides spending a wonderful day in Jewtown, Cochin, and visiting the Paradesi synagogue, I also rented a taxi and went to search out the remnants of the Jewish community in more remote areas. I visited two restored synagogues at Parur (or Paravoor) and Chennamangalam (or Chendamangalam), and I visited the Kadavumbagan synagogue in Ernakulum, which was closed 40-50 years ago and remains unrestored.
There are about 12 Jews left in Kerala. I spent two days visiting Sarah Cohen. Sarah, 91, is the matriarch of the Cochin Jewish community. She reminded me totally of my Baba Sarah. On my first visit, I asked her if I could bring her anything that she needed. She asked for chocolate and beer, and I returned the next day with some Cadbury. Sarah has an embroidery shop on Jew Street in Jewtown, in the city’s Mattanchery neighborhood, two blocks from the Paradesi synagogue, which is spectacular – it is a national historic landmark, expertly renovated and with excellent historical information.
I was also able to meet Elias Josephi at the Kadavumbagan synagogue. About 50 years ago, the synagogue disbanded because of lack of membership and Josephi purchased it. He currently runs a plant nursery and an aquarium/fish shop in the antechamber of the synagogue. Behind his desk, the closed door leads to the treasure of the sanctuary, exactly as it was left 40-50 years ago.
At the peak, there may have been about 100,000 Jews in India. Eighty percent of them emigrated to Israel in the 1950s/60s. It is interesting that they remained separate. The Cochinis went to Nevatim and the Bene Israel went to Dimona, Ashdod, etc. Fifteen percent of the Indian Jews went to English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, and five percent remain in India today.
What a fascinating Diaspora story. How intriguing that at all ends of the earth, one can find Jewish communities. I believe it was one of our sages who once said, “If there is oxygen, there are Jews.” Or, perhaps, it was me who made up that line!
Steven Finkleman, originally from Winnipeg, is a retired pediatrician living in Kelowna. He travels extensively and often researches and visits remote Diaspora communities on his adventures.
Cantor Herskovits and Schara Tzedeck Choir, Vancouver, 1955. (JWB fonds, JMABC L.14274)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected].