Jewish communities in exotic corners of the globe have always fascinated me.
I hadn't spent much time investigating the Jews of India until I discovered the descendants of a Dardashti branch that had settled in Bombay. My husband's grandfather's brother (known variously as Moshe-Moshi-Agha Mehdi ben Israel Dardashti) long ago left Teheran, Iran, and fell off the family tree.
Reconnecting - by pure luck - with his descendants in Israel a few years ago, I learned that one of Moshe's wives - Miriam Mijboura - and many children moved from Baghdad to Bombay in the 19th century. Their descendants migrated again - in the 1960s - for the UK, the US and Israel, where I found them.
Since then, I've become interested in Indian Jewish culture and history. Nissim Moses continues to compile a major genealogy project for one of the three Indian Jewish communities - the Bene Israel - with some 10,000 names in his database.
The Indian Jewish Congregation in the US is planning an Indian Jewish Wedding at New York City's Westside Jewish Community Center (Amsterdam and W. 76th St.), at 1pm, Sunday, February 17.
Romiel Daniel will take the audience through an Indian Jewish wedding, including a special Malida ceremony (parched grain sacrifice of Temple times), which is nearly exclusive to the Bene Israel community.
The life-cycle event includes special blessings and the uniquely Indian Jewish ritual Eliyahu Hanavi ceremony performed on special occasions. Photographs of Indian synagogues and mikvehs will be displayed and there will be music and a festive kosher vegetarian Indian dinner.
Participants are invited to come in traditional Indian dress. Entrance: members (JCC/IJC), $20; others, $25.
The Indian Jewish community has been holding its own religious services, in the traditional Bombay practice, for the High Holidays since 1995, with members participating from California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota and elsewhere.
The IJC was founded in 2005 to provide help and support for Beth El Synagogue in Panvel, India. Built in 1849, it was badly damaged by monsoons in 2005, losing all its six Torah scrolls, the ark and damaging the bima. The IJC replaced two Torah scrolls with the help of others individuals and institution
The IJC meets at the Village Temple in Manhattan. It also conducts meetings in the city for educational events and to teach the culture and identity of the Jews of Indian to the second and third generation Indian Jews, who come from three communities: Cochin, Bagdadi and Bene Israel.
The Cochin Jews originated by settling in Cranganore and around Malabar, where they lived for centuries. In the 15th century CE they escaped to Cochin after having been attacked by Moors and Portuguese. At its largest, there were never more than 2,500 people. No more than 17 individuals, mostly elderly. live in Cochin.
The Baghdadis arrived in the 19th century from Baghdad, Iran and Syria as traders and refugees, landed in Surat and settled in Bombay, Calcutta and Pune. Numbering about 5,000 at one time, they spoke spoke Arabic, Persian and English. Today fewer tham 200 live there as most have emigrated to the UK, Australia, Canada and the US.
The Bene Israel predominate India's Jewish presence. Theories of their origin include arrival from ancient kingdoms of Israel after the Assyrian defeat in 722 BCE, or that they reached India's west coast after the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed and the Babylonians exiled the Jews in 586 BCE. Their oral tradition indicates that they fled from Antiochus in 175 BCE, were shipwrecked at Navgaon near Cheul on the Konkan Coast, 30 miles south of Bombay. Seven men and seven women survived, multiplied and spread to surrounding villages. Most Bene Israel names end in "kar," indicating their ancestral villages; there are 142 such names.
For more information on the Jews of India, click here.