downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 33 | Dec. 29, 2006 - Jan. 4, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky

New York area Jews of Indian ancestry joined Councilmember Alan Gerson last Thursday at City Hall for a Hanukkah celebration with Synagogue for the Arts.

Jews with roots in India trek to City Hall

New York’s Indian-Jewish community shared traditions with members of Tribeca’s Synagogue for the Arts at a Hanukkah celebration at City Hall Dec. 21.

Soho resident Ellen Eichel is a member of the White St. synagogue but attends high holiday worship with Jews of Indian ancestry, drawn by their tunes and their services. She organized the event after Council­member Alan Gerson, who is Jewish and represents Tribeca and Soho, told her he wanted to find out more about the traditions of this community, called Bene Israel. About 300 Jews with roots in India are living in the New York area.

“The Jewish Community from India in the metro area wants to be involved with the larger Jewish community,” said Eichel. “By having this event at City Hall we were able to introduce the City Council to another tradition of our Jewish family.”

Romiel Daniel, president of the Indian Jewish Congregation of USA and also president of the Rego Park Jewish Center in Queens, said: “We wanted to show our different traditions within a common history. Hanukkah was a time when Jews left Judea for India around 175 B.C. E. They settled in the southwest and western part of India.  Our history starts there. The community grew to its largest in the time of Indian independence — 1947 — when there were 35,000.

”The community has been in this area since the ‘50’s but has never been recognized; the American Jewish Community is not fully aware of us.” 

Jews have been in India since the time the struggle for rededicating the Second Temple took place around 168 B.C.E.  Oil burning receptacles like those in Temple times adorn the walls of many Indian Jewish households.

People from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington D.C. attended last Thursday’s event. “We’re trying to showcase there is a Jewish community outside of the Eastern European Jewish community and are happy the community was recognized,” Daniel added. “We’re interested in integration with distinctiveness.”

— Tequila Minsky

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