Last week Judy and I arrived in Israel. We had the same taxi driver from 4 years ago take us to our Kibbutz and it was so nice to see a friendly face! I asked about his children 4 years ago and he complained, and he had roughly the same complaints this time! Last time I wrote Israel is the same, only more so. Well, this time it seems even more, more so. More building, more roads, more traffic, more crowding, more technological advancements, but all the same dilemmas and problems too.
The Kibbutz looks the same and it is good to be “home”. For those of you who are interested to look up where we are, we plan to live for 2 months on Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh which is 20 kilometers south of Be’er Sheva and was settled in 1949.
After a couple days of jet lag, we were ready to begin exploring. The first two places we visited were Moshav Nevatim and Tel Be’er Sheva. The Moshav is a very special place which was settled by Jews from the southwestern coast of India. The main city was Cochin and the Jews have lived there peacefully over 1,000 years with special rights, especially the right to buy and sell spices.
A smaller Community existed in the town of Chendamangalam (try saying that fast 5 times!) which was known as the town of 4 streets. There was a street for Hindus, a street for Jews, a street for Moslems and a street for Christians, and they all got along.
When the Jewish Communities learned that modern Israel had been established, they decided en masse to return to Israel. Unlike Jews who trace our history to the Arab World or the Christian World, they were never persecuted and in fact held special rights and privileges that had been granted by the local rulers over 1,000 years ago. Because Judaism was the center of their lives, an opportunity to become part of the new Land of Israel had to be acted upon. They sold all their belongings and relocated from lush tropical coastlands to the dry, brown and unforgiving uplands of the Negev desert. What a change! Ben Gurion himself decided they should be placed in the Negev and they accepted the challenge. Times were tough for a long time, but the Community has thrived, is now completely integrated into the vibrancy of Israel, and they are celebrating nearly 70 years and 3 generations in the Land.
Our Synagogue and this one share many things in common, the Aharon Kodesh, Readers Podium, Memorial Wall and decorations. There are several things we do not share as they are unique to the Synagogues of India. There is a walled courtyard for social activities that is counted as part of the Synagogue (photo #754). There is a women’s gallery upstairs that has a place for the Torah reader to stand and read from (photo #749). Women did not read Torah, but as a sign of respect, on Shabbat and Holidays the Torah was read from the women’s gallery. This is unique in all the world. There were also times in a Service when women sang and could be heard by the men, something that is not normally done in a Traditional Sephardi or Ashkenazi Synagogue. Judy and I got to tell a bit about Shalom Bayit and it was wonderful to share different traditions without any judgement.
If you are lucky enough to come to Israel for a visit, you can see an actual Indian Synagogue that was taken apart piece by piece and reconstructed inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (At the Museum there are several other reconstructed Synagogues from around the World). What is special about the one at Moshav Navatim is that it is used daily by the Community and exudes the Holiness of decades of ceremonies and T’filah.
Today in Cochin there remain perhaps a dozen Jews and crumbling buildings, while the descendants of those that came to Israel are prosperous and number about 6,000.
I have attached several photographs of the Synagogue on the Moshav (#739-755)
#739 – sign
#737 – Cultural Center
#740 – A group of Israeli High School students touring the Moshav
#743 – Aharon Kodesh (we have in common)
#747 – Memorial Wall (we have in common)
#748 – “Stairway to Heaven” (actually to the women’s gallery)
#749 – Readers podium in women’s section (we do not have in common)
#750 – view from women’s gallery
#751 – Decorations
#752 – more decorations
#754 – Walled courtyard – (we do not have in common)
#755 – Paradise created from total desert in past 65 years
Sent with Blessings from Israel,