INDIA: JEWISH COMMUNITY LIVING IN BOMBAY

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A small Jewish community living in the Indian city of Bombay is learning to come to terms with its shrinking population.

The community’s numbers are dwindling fast, as most of the young Jews have migrated to Israel.

But for the older generation Jews, uprooting a link that dates back 2000 years is not easy.

They continue to live in the shadow of the past, in the hope their history in India will not fade away entirely.

A traditional way to herald the Jewish new year.

For the Jewish community living in the western Indian city of Bombay, it’s also a time to look back on fond memories of years gone by.

Their memories are of times when the synagogue was filled with Jews, both young and old.

The history of this Jewish settlement in India dates back more than 2000 years.

The community includes Baghdad Jews living in Calcutta, White Jews who have settled in Cochin, as well as this congregation in Bombay.

Today, the once 25-thousand strong community which settled in various parts of India has dwindled to about one-fifth of its size.

About two-thousand of them now live in Bombay, while most of the young Jews have migrated to Israel.

Those who are still here say it’s a spiritual call that beckons the Jews to their Holy Land.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
\”It is written in our Bible that from all over the world Jews will come together to Israel, and one time will come, you see, when all the Jews will go there.\”
SUPER CAPTION: Abrahim Samson, Indian Jew

As elsewhere in the world, it is religion that has kept the community bound closely together.

Synagogues and prayer halls are centres for social interaction and get-togethers.

Concern about widespread migration of the young is often reflected in pleas published in the newspapers.

Ancestors of Jews living in Bombay were known as Bene Israelis, meaning the children of Israel.

The Bene Israelis have brown skins, unlike the White Jews of Cochin.

The desire to keep the ethnic identity of the community intact has meant few inter-religious marriages.

Jonathan Daniel, who works for Israeli Airlines in Bombay, says the search for better prospects and suitable life partners drives most young Jews to Israel.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
\”It is restricted. We don’t usually go outcaste because if you want to marry outcaste you have to convert her to the Jewish religion and then we marry her.\”
SUPER CAPTION: Jonathan Daniel Chewoolkar, Indian Jew

Bombay’s minority Jews have assimilated themselves well into the local Indian culture.

They speak fluent Marathi – the local language – even though learning Hebrew is still a must.

The attire for the Jewish women is the Indian sari, just like their Hindu counterparts.

But cultural assimilation remains strictly within the parameters set by the Jewish religion.

Religious rites and rituals are practised in the traditional manner, and the ethnic signature of the community remains distinct.

Conscious of the historical persecution of the Jewish race in many parts of the world, Jews in India say the country’s policy of religious tolerance is largely responsible for their long history in an alien land.

SOUNDBITE: (Hindi)
\”There are no restrictions on us in practising our religion here. We have adopted a few things from India but only those permitted by
our religion.\”
SUPER CAPTION: Gabriel Abrahim Galsovrkar, Indian Jew

Every new year for the Jews in India brings with it the growing reality of their dwindling numbers.

The occasion of Jewish new year is traditionally heralded by offering prayers at the ferry wharf in Bombay.

It is believed that praying near the sea will rid the community of all its ills.