'Synagogues of India' artworks lend an ethereal feel at 'Light after Lockdown' 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.
Evocative traditional singing and music by Kim Cunio, activist composer and performer, and Head of the School of Music at ANU, enhanced the event.
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.
Synagogues of India date from the mid-16th C, are among the oldest in the C'Wealth
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.
'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.
Hanukkah in Bangalore
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