Thursday, 16 February 2012

Strawberries, Beaches and Weddings

  Youth Camp: Mahabaleshwar

After weeks of planning we held our first of two Youth Camps of the year! With the group who attended the Szarvas camp in the summer, Heather and I planned a great schedule filled with games and educational activities for this four day camp in Mahabaleshwar. After an eight hour bus ride we reached this hill station known for strawberries and mulberries. Mmmmm!!!!

This was my third time going to a Maharasthran hill station and the greenery, lakes, deep valleys, and clear air I hoped for upheld their allegiance to my expectations. The surroundings and hotel were such a great respite from Mumbai and served as a perfect setting for the camp.

Bonfire and fun!
While we played so many games and held contests that everyone got really into, we also had interactive educational activities surrounding questions related to Jewish values and identity. While preparing for the camp and implementing the sessions with the Szarvas group I learned so much about their Jewish identities, which are both similar to and different from my own. Each session touched on a different aspect of being Jewish- birth, practice, feeling and belief- and everyone gained new insights and questions to consider individually and as a community.
Throughout the camp we played Frisbee, swam, played bananagrams and taki, went paddleboating, drank strawberry smoothies, lost ourselves in a competitive scavenger hunt and played some ridiculously entertaining ice breakers. After a lot of hard work it feels great to say that the camp was a success!


After Youth Camp I took a long weekend and ventured down to Goa with my new friend, Jana. This small, coastal state with clear remnants of its prior status as a Portuguese colony was a prime choice for a weekend getaway. After a thirteen hour train ride we arrived in Thivim and took a rickshaw to Candolim Beach where we would be staying. On the ride I couldn’t keep my eyes inside the rickshaw as we drove through traffic-less, palm tree lined roads and various farms and valleys that eventually lead up to the Western Ghat mountains.
We spent three whole days swimming in the sea, lounging on the beach, drinking smoothies and eating fish (I stay clear of fish in Mumbai. If you saw the water you’d understand why). One of my favorite things to do in the whole world is swimming in and out of waves so as I went unhesitatingly into the refreshing yet warm Arabian Sea at high tide I found myself feeling completely happy. More than lying on my back beyond the wave’s crashing point, I love having to make a brisk decision as a wave accumulates in front of me. Do l dive under the wave, let it crash over me so I tumble and lose control of myself or do I ride it toward the coast? I’m more than capable of spending hours alternating between these decisions and the only way to get myself to want to return to land is to let multiple huge waves crash over me and make me tumble to the point where my throat and nose burn with salt and make me so uncomfortable that I tell myself,  “that’s enough."

Back on land I paused from reading Mumbai and Jewish themed books and lost myself in a fluffy chick book. However, my time drinking smoothies, reading about teenage love and getting some sun was interrupted by Indians approaching me every five minutes with offers of mani-pedis (seriously? Who wants their nails done on a beach?!), head massages, precious (fake) jewelery and the chance to watch little boys twirl pom-pom toppped hats on their heads. Though I did want to fully relax I think back on these interruptions more as reminders that I was still in India than as annoying disturbances.  
While it seemed impossible to pull ourselves away from the beach we spent our nights exploring the beach north of us which had younger travellers. It was perfect for us to spend our days with retired Euopeans at Candolim where we could (mostly) relax and nights around younger people drinking Goan feni (fermented cashews and coconuts) in front of a blackened sea with music pounding from the many bars lining the back of the beach. During our last day we cut our beach time short to take long walks to hill tops to see churches, the backwaters, a Portuguese fort and glimpses into Goan life.
Before I stepped into the airport I inhaled one last breath of fresh air and prepared myself for the reversely natured city of Mumbai. This trip to Goa was another reminder of India’s vivid cultural and geographic variety. With scenes from the Rajasthani desert, Maharashtran hill stations and Goan coast flitting across my mind I eagerly await my upcoming trip to southern India to fill in more pieces of the Indian mosaic.  
Indian Jewish Wedding!
 This past weekend Heather and I went to our first Indian Jewish wedding which we had enthusiastically been awaiting for months. The first noticeable mention is the sincere openheartedness the community greeted us with.  We had never even met the bride or groom- the father of the bride was at the JCC for an event and two seconds after meeting him he handed me an invitation to the wedding!
While it was a Jewish wedding, it was also an Indian wedding which meant we got to see a mehndi ceremony. The groom’s family was carrying out this ceremony at a synagogue while the bride’s family held its separately, in a school building.  We attended the bride’s and though we missed the henna application we did see her have her entire ring finger become covered in henna (for this first year of marriage the rings are worn on the right pointer fingers). At the wedding the following night I saw that the groom’s finger was completley red as well, uniting the couple. The mehndi continued into the early hours of the morning as the groom’s family (sans groom) joined for another round of events. Once we noticed that we were probably the only non-family members left at the ceremony we made our way home, excited for the wedding the next day.

The wedding had similarities to other Jewish weddings I’ve been to such as the breaking of the glass and a few prayers but there were differences as well. When I described the High Holidays earlier in the year I mentioned that the Sephardic and Indian tunes confuse songs that I would normally recognize immediately and this was an amusing issue for me at the wedding as well.
After the ceremony everyone drove to the party where the number of guests that had been at the wedding ceremony itself multiplied tremendously. At the party’s peak there were probably about 600 people! While the bride and groom were taking pictures and being danced around, everyone else was mingling and eating from the wide buffet. When the dancing got going Heather and I joined in and before we knew it we were surrounded with so many people we know. At one point we were in a circle with eight year olds from my class at the Jacob Sassoon school, twenty-five year olds from the youth group and some of the older community members. It was so warming to see the community coming together to celebrate. Though people talk about the uncertain future of the community and other issues it faces, dancing in that circle made everything seem okay.
 Throughout the night I couldn’t help but think how important this wedding was not only for the newlyweds but for the community as well. The joining of these two individuals meant the merging of two huge families, making the Indian Jewish community even closer than it already is. And seeing all the non-family members join in celebration, well that made everyone feel like family.