Skip to comments.In India, Israeli PM to find small but resilient Jewish community
Posted on 09/06/2003 11:15:27 PM PDT by Destro
Sunday September 7, 12:21 PM
In India, Israeli PM to find small but resilient Jewish community
A stone's throw from the hotel where Ariel Sharon will stay on the first visit by an Israeli premier to India, a minuscule but ancient part of the Jewish diaspora perseveres after decades of emigration.
Behind a simple padlocked fence on one of central New Delhi's broad avenues lies the Judah Hyam Hall, northern India's only functioning synagogue, offering a spot to worship and to socialize for both the 50 Indian Jews in the city of 14 million and Jewish expatriates.
Fifteen people turned up for the Sabbath service Friday, filling half the seats in the blue-carpeted room where the 10 Commandments are inscribed on a violet tapestry -- which was donated, it says, in honor of Israel's first ambassador to New Delhi.
Rabbi Ezekiel Issac Malekar, his auburn hair covered by a purple skullcap, led the recitation of verse in Hebrew, instructing the worshippers in English which page to refer to in their thick prayer books.
Malekar, a native of the western Indian city of Pune, said Sharon "may or may not" tour the synagogue on his four-day state visit scheduled to begin Monday. But the rabbi said he was "very happy" at the maiden visit to India by an Israeli premier.
"We would tell the prime minister that the flame of Judaism is still burning in this part of the world," said Malekar, also an attorney at India's National Human Rights Commission.
Malekar is moderate when observing tradition, allowing non-Jewish spouses of worshippers to take part in services but drawing the line at counting women for the quorum of 10 men needed to open the Torah. If attendance is low, the holy book stays closed.
And there is no taboo about electricity on the Sabbath. The muggy Delhi summer is battled in the synagogue with air-conditioning -- donated, a plaque reads, during a 1993 visit by Israel's then foreign minister Shimon Peres.
India has some 5,000 Jews, 4,000 of whom live in Bombay, which Sharon is also due to visit. But emigration has quartered the size of India's Jewish community in four decades, as people seek their fortunes elsewhere.
According to Malekar, some 50,000 Jews of Indian origin live in Israel, among them his brother.
Legend has it that Jews first landed in India a millennium ago when traders from Israel were shipwrecked near what is now Bombay. Only seven men and seven women swam to shore and their descendants kept up Jewish traditions even while adopting Marathi as their language.
A separate Jewish community was established by traders in Kerala on India's southern tip, where the 16th-century Paradesi Synagogue remains a top tourist attraction. Middle Eastern Jews settled in more recent times in Bombay and the eastern city of Calcutta.
While modern India has seen thousands slaughtered in communal unrest, Jews have lived in peace -- in part because, unlike Muslims and Christians, they cannot be accused of proselytism, a cardinal sin for the powerful Hindu right-wing.
"Jews have lived peacefully in India for 2,000 years. There has never been the slightest persecution," said Malekar, who has read prayers at ceremonies at the tomb of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
But the hospitable treatment of Indian Jews has not always translated into warm ties with Israel. New Delhi recognized the Jewish state in 1950 but did not establish diplomatic ties -- sensitive to concerns among India's millions of Muslims and, in light of the 1947 partition with Muslim Pakistan, uneasy about the idea of a country founded on religious lines.
Since exchanging ambassadors in 1992 the two countries' cooperation has picked up rapidly, and defense ties are expected to take center-stage during Sharon's visit.
Ramon Israel, an Indian engineer at the Sabbath service, said he was flooded with messages of excitement when news emerged that Sharon would visit.
"Before, we even had diplomatic relations with Pakistan, but because of certain alignments not with Israel," he said.
"Since we've established relations we've seen that they've been very beneficial for both countries."
A Jewish community in Kerala was probably what drew the Apostole Thomas to Kerala.
It is reasonable to believe that the St. Thomas came to India, preached the gospel, established the church and died there as a martyr. It is believed that St.Thomas arrived in Cranganore, Kerala, India, in 52 A.D. He preached the gospel and established churches at seven places; Cranganore, Palur, Paraur,Gokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Quilon, and appointed prelates and priests. He is believed to have been martyred at Mylapur, Madras,India, around 72 A.D. Malankara Orthodox Church in India is as old as any ancient Christian communities elsewhere in the world.
South India had trade connections with the Mediterranean and West Asian world since ancient times. This enabled the Church in those areas, particularly Persia, to have a knowledge of the existence of a Christian community in India. Many Christians, when they were persecuted in Persian Empire, fled to the Southwestern coast of India and found there a ready and warm welcome.
There is no documentary evidence referring to the way the Indian Church was governed during early centuries. According to tradition, the successor of St. Thomas corresponded with the leaders of the Christian Churches in the Middle East; and the church of India from time to time was ruled by prelates from that part of the world.
Traditional site of Thomas's landing at Cranganore in Southern India in 52 AD. Here he preached the Messiah to a Jewish colony. They were converted and their synagogue became a Christian church.
The Jewish people have been persecuted by nearly every race, religion and creed (except by Indian Hindus, who never persecuted them). India (a land where vegetarianism, non-violence, non-materialism, kindness, and ahimsa are the mantras) has also endured countless and multiple cruel and bloody invasions by nearly every race, religion, and creed.
To see these two ancient civilizations and peoples prosper, grow, and become closer is truly an event of biblical proportions. I guess the meek truly are inheriting the earth.
India, at its zenith of being a haven for exiled Jewry, was the home for hundreds of thousands of Jews, where they prospered, kept their traditions and faith alive, and completely intact. India still has tens of thousands of thriving and respected Jewish people, and entire settlements and synagogues in Cochin, Malabar, Mumbai, and Goa - only decreasing in number since the the mid-1940s, when there was a huge exodus after the creation of Israel.
To this day, thousands of Indian Jews continue to live and prosper in India, choosing to remain in India due their love of the nation and what it stands for. In fact, the oldest living, still standing synagaogue, is not in Israel - it is in India.
Even the Dalai Lama, who was driven from Mainland Communist China has, for the last ten years, sought refuge in India.
News Flash - China sucks.
You shame yourself. The assimilation happened through peaceful and pleasent intermarriage. The Chinese could not care less what religion the Jews were/are. It is the situation Jews face in the USA.
Do a little reasearch.