Last Sunday morning, I was a guest speaker at Congregation Rodef Shalom in Denver. I talked about my Indian expat experience and the Jews of India. I was the first speaker for the synagogue’s Jewish Communities Around the World series. In November, another speaker will talk about The Hidden Sephardic Jews. December’s event will spotlight the Jews of China. For more information call Congregation Rodef Shalom at 303-399-0035.
My slide show focused on the challenges of being a Jewish expat, some of the places that I visited (Bangalore, Cochin, Munnar, Pune, Mumbai, Kabini, and New Delhi), my teaching experience at a private K-12 boarding school, and an overview of Indian Jewish history. I introduced the 3 main groups- the Baghdadi, the Cochin, and the Bene Israel Jews.
During one of my school breaks, I traveled with teaching colleagues to Munnar and Cochin. I was thrilled to be able to visit the Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. I discussed some of my unique experiences with the audience. I was lucky to spend time with Sarah Cohen, the only Jewish merchant that operates a store on Jew Town Road.
When talking about the Bene Israel Jews, I shared key aspects of my eldest son’s Sephardic Indian wedding ceremony. Most notable was the tradition of serenading his bride as she entered the New Delhi sanctuary.
I included insight as to how the lack of organized anti-Semitism and the migration to Israel in the last half of the 20th century affected the Indian Jewish community.
While teaching 5th grade at an exclusive international school in Bangalore, I shared my Jewish heritage with my students and the rest of the primary school. Even though India is one of the few countries in the world where Jews were not subjected to centuries of anti-Semitism, most Indians know very little about Jews or their history. With my assistance, my 5th grade class taught the school about the Jewish people. They sang a couple of songs in Hebrew and Debbie Friedman’s (z”l) Aleph Bet Song. The girls danced to Chassidic music. I shared one of the video clips from the dress rehearsal.
Less than 5000 Jews currently live in the India. Despite the small number of Jews, Chabad has a presence. I was fortunate to get to know the Bangalore Chabad rabbi and his wife. Their kindness was immeasurable. I will always remember lighting Chanukah candles with the rabbi and his family. With their two young children, they traveled two hours so that I would not be alone. I spotlighted that occasion in a blog, Lending a Helping Hand With Kindness. During my final weeks in Bangalore, they arranged for the delivery of freshly baked challot to my campus guest room.
Even though I was living and working halfway around the world, I was able to maintain my Jewish identity.
Throughout my presentation, I answered questions from the audience.
I would like to thank Rabbi Gerson for inviting me to talk about Indian Jewry. I appreciate the technical assistance that I received from Connie Suson, Rodef Shalom’s program director.
Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in a talk about Indian Jewry, life as an expat in India, the pros and cons of teaching at an international school, Jewish communities throughout the world, Jewish children’s books, children’s literature or how to write, edit and self-publish a memoir.
Rohan Sabharwal’s documentary on the Cochin Jews premiered in Kochi on November 22. Two video clips-
A Visit to Munnar and Cochin, India (Boulder Jewish News Guest Blog)
The Jews of India: A Story of Three Communities, (2002) by the Israel Jewish Museum, Jerusalem
India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art, & Life Cycle (2002) Edited by Shava Weil
The Jews of India: Their Story, by Rachael Rukmini Israel (2001) (Now available on Kindle) Young adult audience
The Jews of India, by Benjamin J. Israel
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.