Community

Meet Your Long-Lost Jewish Family—In India!

November 4, 2015
Synagogue-300x200
Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai.

Known for its exhilarating tours across the Holy Land, OU Israel thought it was high time for an off the beaten track adventure overseas. They’ve set out to discover India—Jewish India. And unlike Columbus, they made sure to hire top-notch navigators.

Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Dr. Ari Greenspan, a globe-trotting duo for over three decades, are not your typical tourists. Ari and Ari specialize in “halachic adventures,” unearthing ancient Jewish communities where you never suspected to find them. For the first time ever, they’re inviting the Jewish public to join them on an upcoming exotic escapade from February 3- 16.

“It will be like no other trip they’ve ever taken,” promises Dr. Greenspan, who, when he’s not traveling, is a shochet, mohel, sofer, and dentist in Jerusalem. “It’s a synthesis of travel, Jewish experience and education.”

According to the two, India has one of the oldest Jewish histories in the world dating 3,500 years ago, back to the time of the Ten Tribes. The group will meet the professed descendants of the tribe of Menashe in northern India; the Jews of Cochin, who arrived in 1400’s and the Bene Israel, discovered in the 1700s who still keep Shabbos, kashrut and have payot.

An undated photo of the Bene Israel
An undated photo of the Bene Israel.

The original members of Bene Israel to arrive in India were believed to have been shipwrecked on the Konkan coast of western India more than 2,100 years ago. Losing all their possessions including their Torah scrolls and sefarim, succeeding generations lacked knowledge of complete mitzvah observance. Some of them claim to be descendants from the ten lost tribes of Israel, who disappeared from history after the northern Kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians in 175–163 B.C.E. Whatever the actual story, throughout the centuries they’ve managed to cling to the fundamentals of Jewish tradition including ritual circumcision, most of the fasts and festivals, as well as recitation of the Shema.

From the approximately 67,000 Bene Israel living in India at the turn of the 21st century, only 3500 to 4000 remain; the great majority immigrated to Israel. “This is a chance to see these ancient Jewish communities and their fascinating mesorah,” says Dr. Greenspan, “before they disappear.”

Participants will also travel to the city of Erode to meet a former Christian minister and 1,500 of his congregants who decided to convert to Judaism.

Tour guides Ari and Ari.
Tour guides Ari and Ari.

OU Israel enlisted the services of Ralphy Jirad, a Jewish tour operator from Mumbai. “He has dedicated his life to preserving the history of the Jewish people of India,” says Rivka Segal, OU Israel program director. “He sees this as his mission; to remind people of what was. He knows anything related to Jews in India. He has the keys to every shul and he knows every OU Kosher Rabbinic Field Representative who has ever been to India. And it helps that he also has relatives and friends with every airline and bus company.”

Dr. Greenspan and his partner Rabbi Dr. Zivotofsky, is on the faculty of the Brain Science Program at Bar-Ilan University, hope to involve the participants in the day-to-day life of the Jews of India. The halachic adventure entourage will get to see Baghdadi communities through the eyes of Jewish locals; they’ll share two Shabboses—India-style—with the natives, daven at a synagogue in the rainforest, learn to prepare traditional Indian meals together with the community women and take a memorable boat ride on the backwaters of Cochin. In addition, the tour gives participants a rare opportunity to partake in a seudat shlishit at the Chabad synagogue in Mumbai to honor the Jews who died al Kiddush Hashem there.

“It’s not just a tour, or class; it’s an experience, a halachic experience,” says Dr. Greenspan. To that end, they will present enlightening talks and power point presentations on the halachic aspects of the places visited.

“No one has ever seen a real avoda zara idol,” says Dr. Greenspan. “They will in India.” The erudite leaders plan to explain the halachic definition of avoda zara and how it affects Jews.

They’ll answer questions such as: Do the ten tribes still exist? Is Bnei Menashe really one of them?

The OU Israel India tour will not only feature invigorating treks through fascinating and unfamiliar territory; the trip will also provide the creature comforts of home, such as five-star hotels with OU Israel-approved breakfast, lunch and dinners daily.

Ari and Ari have traveled to over 40 countries together, researching the mesorah of unusual kosher foods (i.e. cow udders and fried grasshoppers) and lectured worldwide on the exotic Jewish communities around the globe. Now, Ari and Ari look forward to sharing two unforgettable weeks in India with the Jewish public.

OU Israel would love to introduce you to your long-lost mishpacha in India. This could be the halachic adventure of your life.

For more information about the tour contact Chana Spivack at:

ouindia@ouisrael.org

050-229-4951

718-506-9410