Message from the Chair

Dear Friends,

IJAANZ had a gratifying first year in our initiatives to spread the messages of tolerance and inclusivity of the Jews of India.

First things first. It gives me great pleasure to announce that Rabbi George Mordecai has kindly agreed  to be IJAANZ’s Rabbinical Guide (Progressive). Born and raised in Sydney, Rabbi George is of Baghdadi Jewish heritage, and has a deep connection to, and affection for Jewish India. He infuses his teaching with a deep sense of spirituality and historical perspective, weaving his rich cultural heritage into his work as both a Cantor and a performer. 

I’d like to extend a very warm welcome to Rabbi George on behalf of IJAANZ’s Committee, members and friends. 

We are grateful for his guidance. We will also be announcing our Orthodox Rabbinical Guide soon.

We have a wonderful, action-packed issue for you this quarter, I hope you enjoy reading it. I wish all our IJAANZ members, partners and friends Chag Hanukkah Sameach!

Yoel Samson, Chair, IJAANZ

Read the full ‘Message from the Chair’ 

Melburnians revel in watercolours at Leo Baeck Centre

Above: Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black of Leo Baeck Centre chats virtually with artist Professor Jay A. Waronker at the opening of the 'Synagogues of India' Exhibition at the Leo Baeck Art Centre Melbourne.

Melburnians enjoyed the evocative artworks of IJAANZ’s travelling “Journeys in Watercolours – Synagogues of India’ Exhibition at the Leo Baeck Centre (LBC) Art Centre in the city’s leafy eastern suburb of Kew.

Artist Professor Jay A. Waronker joined virtually to talk about his work with Rabbi Jonathan and 

IJAANZ Committee Member Solomon Erulkar.

The exhibition was made possible by the kind generosity of Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black. Valerie Silberberg, LBC Art Centre Director, and her team worked tirelessly with IJAANZ team members Nathan and Naomi Elijah and Solomon Erulkar to make this event a success. 

Left: Nathan Elijah, Honorary Secretary of IJAANZ, with Dr. Joshua Moses. Above: An LBC congregant ponders over information on the synagogues of India. Some of the synagogues are the oldest in the Commonwealth.

'Not a People Apart - The Jews of India' - Yom Limmud Sydney 2022

Above: The Menorah being lit at the Gateway of Indiaby Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, father of Rivca Goldberg, who lost her life along with her husband R. Gabi of Chabad Mumbai and more than 170 people in the Mumbai terror attacks.

There was standing room only at IJAANZ’s talk ‘A People Apart – The Jews of India’ at Yom Limmud Sydney at the University of New South Wales Roundhouse on 11th September 2022. 

The hour-long talk, by IJAANZ Sydney President and Committee Member Angelica Jacob, generated a great deal of interest, engagement and questions.

 Engaged attendees expressed wonder that the five Jewish communities lived, and continue to live, without persecution in India for centuries. They also learned about the immense contributions of the Jews to Indian life. For instance, India was the only country in the world to add Hebrew as a second language. 

Few people know about the remarkable contributions of Jewish women to Indian life. Among them was Hannah Sen, educator, politician, and feminist, member of the first Indian Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) from 1952 to 1957. 

Many notable Jewish men and women received acclaim for their outstanding contributions in their fields.

India was the only country in the world to add Hebrew as a second language.

Among the Jewish recipients of the Padma Shri, the highest award in the land, were Dr Jerusha J. Jhirad, for her lifetime’s work in Medicine in 1966, and  University of Bombay Professor Nissim Ezekiel for his contribution to Indian poetry in English. (read an excerpt of Professor Ezekiel’s poem, “Jewish wedding in Bombay” below).

IJAANZ’s Limmud stand displayed an array of  interesting books including The Bene Israel of India by Nissim Moses and artefacts of the Jews of India. IJAANZ  Committee Member Joshua Moses fielded questions from attendees before, between and after the sessions

Above: Attendees at Yom Limmud Sydney take a well-deserved break between sessions.
Pictured (left): Hannah Sen, member of upper house, educator and feminist, with Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru. (right): Dr. Sarah Jacob, Head and Superintendent of Zanana Hospital in Jaipur shows PM Morarji Desai around the Hospital.

Evocative memories & music at JNF Forever

The enthusiastic audience at JNF Forever’s morning tea on 12 October 2022 in Sydney heard evocative memories of “Growing up Jewishly in India”.

The talk, by IJAANZ Sydney President Angelica Jacob, was interspersed with lilting and evocative renditions of Indian and Iraqi Jewish melodies sung by Rabbi George Mordecai (listen to the video above). JNF Board Member Salome Woods spoke of her happy experiences of growing up in India.

The relationship between Jews and India dates back to Biblical times. The first mention of Jews and India is in the Book of Esther (2nd century BCE). 

At its height, India’s Jewish population numbered approximately 35,000 in 1954. After Indian independence in August 1947, many Indian Jews started to emigrate to Israel. As a result of the emigration, synagogue congregations contracted and became less active.

Above: Rabbi George Mordecai shares his evocative Indian and Iraqi Jewish melodies at the JNF Forever morning tea.
Today, there are fewer than 5,000 Jews remaining in India and were officially declared a minority. 

Jay's Journal - Cemeteries of India

Professor Jay A. Waronker, PhD, was back in India once again on his second Fulbright scholarship reviewing the synagogues and cemeteries of India. He shares some of his images and musings from Raigad, Chennai and Kolkata with IJAANZ e-zine readers.

Raigad Cemetery: A testament to endurance

Left: Unusual hangings inside the Raigad Cemetery. Above: Christian women sell vegetables outside the Cemetery gates. Below: The breathtaking surrounds of Raigad District in Maharashtra. Images © Jay Waronker, USA, 2022

Chennai Cemetery: History dates back to 18thC

The Chennai Jewish Cemetery was relocated because of land development. Some of the graves date back to the eighteenth century. Above: Gravestone at the Jewish cemetery in Chennai RIP. Left: Gravestone at the Jewish cemetery in Chennai RIP. Images © Jay Waronker, USA, 2022

Kolkata Cemetery: tended to with care

Above: Kolkata's beautiful Jewish Cemetery is tended to with loving care by the community. Bottom right and left: Lush greenery and tranquility surround the cemetery. Images © Jay Waronker, USA, 2022

Buried in Bangalore

Above & below: The small Jewish cemetery in Bangalore reveals much about the Jewish presence in India. Image Courtesy: Adam R. Yamey, Curation: Renee Moses.
“Once I calculated that the chance of randomly meeting a Jew who was born in India was minute – less than 0.0005%. So, writing about the Jews of India is to describe a microscopic proportion of the country’s vast population. This proportion is diminishing. This is not because Jews have ever suffered persecution in India,” writes Adam R. Yamey in his Bengaluru Visitor Travellers Point blog.
Read more… 

Shula shows how its done!

Shulamith Malekar, IJAANZ member and chef extraordinaire, shows how to pair saat padar with your favourite curries in place of rotis to lend a sweet element to the spiciness of curries. Try it at home!

Excerpt from "Jewish Wedding in Bombay"

Poem by Professor Nissim Ezekiel, winner of the Padma Shri Award in 1987 for his contribution to Indian poetry in English.

“There was no dowry because they knew I was ‘modern’
and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.

When I said I didn’t know, he laughed it off.
There was no brass band outside the synagogue
but I remember a chanting procession or two, some rituals,
lots of skull-caps, felt hats, decorated shawls
and grape juice from a common glass for bride and

I remember the breaking of the glass and the congregation
clapping which signified that we were well and truly married
according to the Mosaic Law.

Well that’s about all…”