Welcome to IJAANZ!
Welcome to the Indian Jewish Association of Australia and New Zealand! The Association was recently incorporated on 28th May 2021 to celebrate the art, history, heritage, literature and culture of the five Indian Jewish communities. Our goal is to create awareness, recognition, and a deeper understanding among a wider audience in Australia and New Zealand of our rich heritage.
Our focus is initially to organise and run travelling exhibitions, titled ‘Journeys in Watercolours – The Synagogues of India’ and ‘The Jews of India’. We are currently collaborating with the Indian Jewish Heritage Center in Nevatim, Israel and US based artist Professor Jay Waronker PhD.
We also plan to have talks and interviews by local and visiting historians, artists, authors, and poets.
We hope you and your family will become members of IJAANZ and support this new and exciting initiative. I hope to see you very soon at one of our events. Wish you and your family Shana Tova and Well over the Fast.
Yoel Samson, Chairperson
For the first time in history, Indian Jews have a common platform to preserve their rich heritage. The Indian Jewish Cultural Heritage and Tourism Center (IJHC) in Nevatim, Israel, will be a common cultural centre for all Indian Jewish communities – the Cochini, Bene Israel, Baghdadi, Bene Menashe and Bene Ephraim.
IJHC Chairman Avner Isaac said, “We are focused on the inherited traditions, monuments, objects and culture of all the Jewish communities of India. We are proud of our rich and colourful Indian Jewish heritage and are motivated to preserve them digitally and present them to the evolving new generations of descendants from Jewish India.”
Tell Me, Ada - Poetry and Piyyutim in the Cochin Jewish Community
The piyyutim (Hebrew piyūṭ meaning “liturgical poem”) heritage of the Jews of Cochin consists of original piyyutim created by the Jewish merchant communities who came to the port city of Krangnur, north of Cochin, in the tenth century AD. They drew upon the poetry of Spanish poets such as Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra.
The piyyutim written by the local poets were composed with original melodies, the best known of which is the Shingli melody, a general name for the Jewish customs on the Malabar coast; piyyutim that came from other diasporas were adopted with their melodies.
Piyyutim have been written since Temple times; most are in Hebrew or Aramaic and are usually sung, chanted, or recited during religious services.
This Kerala “play song” for Shavuot is about Mutaliyār Moses receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai . Mutaliyār is a title given to the leaders of various communities in Kerala.
Source: Jewish Music Research Center
For centuries, the Jewish women of Cochin have been singing piyyutim in the Malayalam language of Kerala, their ancient homeland on the tropical southwest coast of India. The women were learned and educated, read the Siddur, attended prayers and got to know their melodies.
The women’s songs were passed from mother to daughter in the Malayalam language – they dealt with sacred and secular issues, rituals in the circle of life, historical issues, praise to God and biblical stories. Parts of the piyyutim were even translated by the women into Malayalam.
Source: Jewish Music Research Center. Based on Eliyahu Bermut’s book, “Singing for Musicians: Cochin’s Poems” Indian Univ Press, 2005.
The Elijah Rock Story
Carved in a large rock, outside of a village on the Konkan Coast are mystical markings reputed to have been made by Elijah the Prophet. The Bene Israel and the local Hindu population, believe that the spot is sacred, because it was from this spot that Elijah the Prophet ascended to heaven.
Elijah the prophet is also known as Eliyahu HaNavi, and Eliyahoo Hannabi.
The Elijah Rock with the two hoof marks and the cleft in the rock play a very important role in the religious life of the Bene Israel. This spot has become a pilgrimage site for the Bene Israel community. It is customary for a Malida ceremony to be performed and a lamp lit.
Read the traditional view of Elijah’s ascent to heaven as described in Kings II Chapter 2.
Synagogues of India: Magen David, Mumbai
In its glory days, the congregation spilled out from under the sanctuary of the majestic Magen David—‘Defender of David’—synagogue, its four outstretched pillars cradling the high clock-tower soaring heavenward.
Today, the synagogue has a new look and still holds Shabbat services and dinners for its small congregation.
New Melodies Emerge in Indian Jewish Research
A 2017 conference on Indian Jews titled ‘Shirei Hodu’ – or Songs of India – in New Delhi focused on myriad topics including the oral and written traditions of the Jews in India, on community and identity, and the challenges of preserving the Jewish heritage in India. Surprisingly, it revealed an influx of many young scholars in this field, bringing with them new interdisciplinary perspectives and more importantly, a careful examination of existing documents and new texts and a close inspection of the historical trail.
Source: Jewish Standard, Feb 2017
Simeon Jacob Kharilker was a famous Chazzan (cantor) in the Indian Jewish community of Bombay. In the 30’s he recorded some of the classical Jewish songs sung by Jews then.
Asher Raymond moved from Bombay to Israel and fell in love with a girl who had moved there from New Jersey. When the girl told her father she was going to marry a man from India, her father wanted to make sure the groom was infact Jewish. Having never heard of Indian Jews the father was suspicious and asked him, “Do you speak Yiddish?”.
When Asher responded that he did not, the father was taken aback and stated, “How do you not know Yiddish?! All the Jews I know speak Yiddish!” To which Asher replied, “Do you speak Marathi?” When the father said that he didn’t, Asher retorted with, “Well, all the Jews I know speak Marathi!”
From India to Israel: Joseph Hodes, McGill-Queen’s University Press (1 April 2014)
I decided on the title ‘Bombay Brides’ as most Jewish men of Ahmedabad are married to women from Mumbai and these stories are woven around their lives. While writing this book, I often visited Jewish homes and observed their lifestyles in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Alibaug, Cochin and Kolkata.
Writing about Jewish life has helped me understand my community, the Bene Israel Jews of Western India, which has held on to its roots in India. The Bene Israelis continue to preserve their heritage, rites and rituals in an Indian environment. Bombay Brides tries to capture the emotional crisis faced by the last surviving Jews in a vast multi-cultural country like India.
Bombay Brides: Esther David, HarperCollins; 1st edition (5 November 2018)
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