My first week in India has been just what I expected: the unexpected. Sure I had read about the bright colors, the grime and cows in the streets, the inescapable potent smells, the congested traffic, the manifest distinction between affluence and poverty, the Delhi belly and more. But it wasn’t until my first steps here that these features actualized for me. Every guide book says that India shocks all of one’s senses. My tongue is prickling from spices, my nose is more aware than ever before, my eyes won’t close in obedience to my will, my ears need earplugs and my feet and hands…. well, they’re dirty. But I’m excited! I came to Mumbai to experience a new existence and here it is.
Part of this new experience and the reason for my stay is the Indian Jewish community. This year I am one of two Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Jewish Service Corps fellows in Mumbai. Historically, Jews have been in India for over 2,000 years (c. the First Temple destruction). With the religiously tolerant Hindus as their neighbors, the Indian Jews have generally not experienced anti-Semitism and have assimilated into larger society. Though they are proud of their Judaism many lack the Jewish education needed to carry on the religion with understanding and devotion. While thousands of Bene Israel emigrated to Israel, about 4,500 remain. The JDC, which actively embodies the principle of ‘kol yisrael aravim ze laze’ – ‘all of Israel is responsible for each other,’ has been in India for almost fifty years. With the ultimate goal of helping to establish a self-sustaining Jewish community in India, the JDC continues its Jewish educational programming as well as its welfare programs for needy members of the community.
Heather (my fellow fellow) and I will be creating and implementing lots of informal Jewish educational programming for community members of all ages as well as coming up with new ideas to keep this community going! I’m very eager to learn from those I’ll be teaching, especially about a Judaism that I assume is quite different from my own.
I'm having a difficult time feeling so dirty all the time while having diarrhea and not knowing how to communicate with cab drivers and shop owners.... there's a lot I don't like so much. The other night I was so lost I seriously thought I wouldn't make it back to the apartment. Oh, and I am really uncomfortable having EVERYONE stare at me wherever I go. I really can't wait for Heather to get here so I can feel confused and lost with someone else! Alongside all of these things that will take acclimating to, I’ve met wonderful, wonderful people and really silly things are happening all around me. Oh, and I love the new Indian clothing style I’m slowly taken on.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone I miss. So hi and I miss you!
*The posting on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee*