'Synagogues of India' artworks lend an ethereal feel at 'Light after Lockdown' in Sydney

The ‘Journeys in Watercolours –  Synagogues of India’ artworks lent an ethereal atmosphere at our inaugural exhibition at the NSW JBD's 'Light after Lockdown' event in Sydney.
"The Indian Jewish communities are truly the bridge between our two worlds." - Lesli Berger, President, NSW JBD

The ‘Journeys in Watercolours –  Synagogues of India’ artworks lent an ethereal atmosphere at IJAANZ’s  inaugural exhibition at the ‘Light after Lockdown’ Hanukkah event organised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (NSW JBD) on 2 December 2021 in Sydney.

Professor Jay A. Waronker’s evocative images of his original  watercolours depicting the synagogues of India lined the windows of the hall . The images were received with immense interest and admiration by the approximately 70 people who attended the joint Hanukkah-Diwali celebration.

Lesli Berger, President of NSW JBD, said, in his opening statements of his speech: “The Indian Jewish communities are truly the bridge between our two worlds.” He commended IJAANZ and Professor Waronker on bring the exhibition to Australia for the first time. Darren Bark, CEO and Lynda Ben-Menashe, Head of Engagement, NSW JBD also spoke at the event.

Artworks against the glow of the evening sun. Text panels (on table) had further information about the synagogues of India (see story below) and the artist, Prof. Jay A. Waronker, PhD.

Evocative traditional singing and music by Kim Cunio, activist composer and performer, and Head of the School of Music at ANU, enhanced the event. 

Above: Lesli Berger, President of NSW JBD, makes his opening address at 'Light after Lockdown' Hanukkah event in Sydney.
'Journeys in Watercolours - Synagogues of India' Exhibition artworks flanked both walls of the NCJWA Hall.

Attendees lit and coloured candles on miniature menorahs placed at each table and enjoyed the generous, delectable spread of kosher foods afterwards. 

The uplifting messages lauded the resilience of theJewish spirit  and the victory of good over evil, further illuminating the event.

Visit our Facebook page for more event images…

Synagogues of India date from the mid-16th C, are among the oldest in the C'Wealth
Above: Interior of Parur (now known as Paravur) Synagogue in Jew Town, Kerala before Restoration. Built in 1164 (likely), reconstructed in 1616 or 1621, refurbished in 1662, damaged in 1780s and rebuilt in part in the 19th century.

Jews thrived and flourished on the Indian sub-continent without persecution for more than 1,800 years. India’s synagogues date from the mid-sixteenth century and are among the oldest synagogues in the Commonwealth.

Some forty structures constructed as synagogues can be found in India today and vary in design, scale and appointments. These synagogues were built by five distinct communities of Jews – the Bene Israel, Cochini, Baghdadi, B’nei Menashe and Bene Ephraim.

The synagogues of the Bene Israel, the largest community, are all located in the state of Maharashtra, except for one in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Eleven of these structures survive; only the ones nearest Mumbai remain active today.

The synagogues of the Cochini Jews, located in Kerala, are by far the oldest in India. Two were extensively renovated by artisan craftsmen with funding from the Indian and Kerala governments and are now museums that welcome visitors.

Baghdadi Jews arrived in India considerably later and began erecting synagogues in the mid-nineteenth century. They built two synagogues in Mumbai, one in Pune and five in Kolkata (three surviving), which can be visited today.

In the eastern region of Andhra Pradesh state, the Bene Ephraim recently constructed two synagogues. The B’nei Menashe, who live in India’s north-eastern hill states, founded several synagogues over the last few years. In New Delhi, one prayer hall from 1956, which has always served a diverse congregation of Jews in the nation’s capital, remains open and relatively active. 

– Prof. Jay A Waronker, Ph.D.

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'Kirtans' enjoy a revival, preserve Jewish identity

Kirtans, or traditional devotional songs with storytelling from the Torah—first performed in 1880 as a tool to teach first and second generations of Bene Israel Jews about their scriptures—fell into obscurity decades ago.

However, in the last five years, Jewish women had the foresight to transcribe these songs into notebooks. They have become the domain of women since the 20th century. Shoshanna Kolet, 75, said: “This is our traditional culture. We are passing it on to new generations. That’s why we are writing kirtans,” she said. Kirtans are believed to be also adopted from zemirot,  Sephardic Jewish tunes for Shabbat.

Above: Kirtankars Ruby Moses (Rivka Moshe), Diana Korlekar, and sisters Shoshanna and Hannah Kolet from the Bene Israel community sing kirtan or devotional songs at a South Mumbai synagogue. Photo & Story Courtesy: Times of India.

The Bene Israel songs include Hebrew words and extol great figures of the Hebrew Bible, such as Moses and Jacob.  Read More...

Hanukkah in Bangalore

Menorah lighting ceremony at the Dan Hotel in Bangalore. Left: Sidney Moses, the only Jewish person known to be permanently resident in Bangalore today. Photo Courtesy: Renee Moses, Sydney, Australia. Renee and Sidney Moses’s late father, Rubin Moses, had a famed shoe shop on Commercial Street (now Woody’s) in Bangalore for 75 years.

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This is an online e-zine featuring the unique history, rich heritage, beautiful synagogues, art, literature, music, food, culture and customs of the Jewish Diaspora from the Indian sub-continent.

Have a short anecdote, item of interest or photograph to contribute to the magazine? Please email: contact@ijaanz.org.