Are you an indian jew
He only comes after the third knock. Then the heavy, blue gate opens to the Gate of Mercy Synagogue in the heart of Mumbai. Shri Emanuel Chandgaonkar carefully sticks his little head with the much too big brown kippah into the crack in the door and asks in a friendly but firm manner who the guest is - and what he wants. It is not often that Shri Emanuel and Elis Solomon Talkar visit the synagogue, which they run on a voluntary basis from Monday to Friday from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Jewish life in India is hidden and takes place privately. In the Mandvi district, where the Gate of Mercy Synagogue is located, there is even a second Jewish place of worship. "But since there are hardly any Jews left anyway, only this one will be preserved here," says Shri Emanuel.
On Shabbat, they sometimes find it hard to get a minyan together. It is noticeable in the synagogue's old, thick guest book that most of the foreign guests are young Israelis on vacation in India. The 82-year-old pensioner Chandgaonkar and the 46-year-old clerk Talkar sip hot tea in front of the steps to the entrance to the prayer house to pass the time.
Tribes The Gate of Mercy Synagogue is one of nine synagogues in Mumbai, including 33 in all of India. The church, built in 1796, is the second oldest in the country after the one in Kochi in southern India. It celebrated a glamorous 200-year anniversary in 1996. This synagogue was built when the first seven Jewish families landed by ship in Alibag, now a suburb of Mumbai, about 2100 years ago. The community of the Bnei Israel, one of five Jewish tribes in India, is estimated at around 4,000 people in Mumbai today. The majority took the opportunity to emigrate to Israel.
About 70,000 Indian Jews live in Israel today. Aaron Kandlekar, however, would never do Aliyah. Like many Jews in Mumbai, the 76-year-old engineer with golden glasses attended a university and speaks good English. In the 1980s he worked for Siemens in Dortmund. He is head of the Tepheret Synagogue, which is one of the more popular in Mumbai. His grandfather bought the land for the construction of the synagogue and the Torah in 1924. While the fans groan on the ceiling, he enthusiastically talks about how alive Judaism is in Mumbai.
“In contrast to many other countries in the world, you can still be openly Jewish here and don't have to hide. We Jews in India have always been full members of society, «says Kandlekar. He sits relaxed on the synagogue's "bench of honor" on which his grandfather's plaque is affixed and proudly emphasizes that the Tephereth Synagogue is one of the very few that is economically successful. "That's because it is well attended and the families still stick together here."
Strict About 60 to 70 people come to the evening prayer on Shabbat. Kandlekar also attributes the fact that the congregation of his synagogue is so upright to the fact that he leads it more strictly and more orthodox than others in Mumbai. About the »decline« of traditional values in other communities, he explains: »For example, we don't allow photos here, and we make sure that the rules of the Halacha are observed. In contrast to the Magen-Hassidim Synagogue, we also do not allow marriages between Jews and converted Jews. "
Because of the small community in Mumbai, many marriages are arranged in childhood so that everyone has a partner. Aaron's children were themselves married through arranged marriages; his daughter Saniya, who emigrated to the USA with her husband, was 23. “Many other congregations solve the problem by illegally converting Gentiles beforehand and then marrying off their partners. We don't do that. "
However, he reveals a secret: the caretaker of his synagogue has a Jewish father but a Muslim mother. Because he has been serving the congregation well for so long, he is tolerated, but he is not admitted to the alijah, the call to the Torah. “Actually, we would also like to have a Jewish butcher, but there haven't been any for a long time. That's why we get our meat from a Muslim butcher. "
Mikveh A wedding is being prepared in the Magen Hassidim Synagogue, just 15 minutes' walk from Aaron Kandlekar's Synagogue. The facade of the house shines thanks to generous donations, the condition and the interior are beyond any doubt. There is even a mikvah, a ritual bath, here.
Jewel and Haim, both native Jews, will get married in this synagogue the next day. That evening there will be dinner with friends and family, the light blue plastic chairs in the courtyard in front of the synagogue are all occupied. In a short pause between two songs on the stereo system that are sung in Mahrati - the local Hindi dialect in Mumbai - you can hear the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, from the nearby mosques. The synagogue is in the middle of a quarter with a high Muslim population.
Benjamin Daniel Divekar, the head of the parish of this synagogue, doesn't see this as a big problem. "In our community no one has ever been insulted or injured." But some of his friends had the car doors scratched. Because of this, and because there are too few parking spaces, most of the guests that evening came by taxi.
Minority In relation to the other religions, India's Jews only play a subordinate role. In a country of 1.2 billion people, the Jewish minority is vanishingly small with around 5,000 members. But almost 1000 guests are present at the pompous wedding celebration of Jewel and Haim. Looking at just 4,000 Bnei Israel in Mumbai, Solomon Talkar, the groom's uncle, reveals: “Perhaps half of the guests are Jewish. Many of our friends are Hindus, and of course they are invited today too. "
In India there are always religious conflicts, but primarily between Hindus and Muslims. Jews were never part of religious disputes. "We are very proud that we can live out Judaism in peace in India," says Yael Jhirad, President of India's Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO).
The next evening the whole congregation has gathered in the synagogue and awaits the arrival of the bride and groom. The magnificent chuppah was stretched over the bima. Family members Jewel and Haim cheer frenetically. After exchanging the rings and kissing the Torah, two glasses are broken and seven candles are lit together, a local Indian tradition. “Weddings like this have become rare, but they are part of living Judaism in Mumbai. Circumcisions of newborns are even rarer; they take place no more than every two months, «says Elis Solomon Talkar.
Attack But Jewish life in India also has terrible hours. The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, which was built in 1884, is located in Colaba, Mumbai's most touristy district. For the 125th anniversary, the then Federal President Horst Köhler also paid a visit. The synagogue's rabbi was Gavriel Holtzberg, who fell victim to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
The Chabad Center in the Nariman building, about ten minutes by car from the synagogue, served as a residence for him and his wife. You can still see the bullet holes today. The attacks of 2008 are also the reason why police are standing around the clock in front of every synagogue in India today - and why a telephone number was set up specifically for Jewish institutions.
But Elis Solomon is certain that the Jewish community will have as much a future in India as it has a past. »Even after 2008 we feel safe. And the Jews who still live here today will not leave India. Too many have already left, but we have come to stay. We'll never go. "
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