Corona clouds Jewish New Year fete

The Jewish community in India is gearing up for low-key celebrations of Jewish New Year and related festivals on account of the ban on entry of community members to synagogues and restrictions on congregations in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, starts on the evening of Friday and will end on Sunday evening. It will be followed by a month of festivals and rituals. The sudden imposition of Section 144 in Mumbai from Thursday midnight to contain the spread of COVID-19 has added to the community’s dampened mood.

“This will be the first time that we will not be able to conduct the religious rituals as usual. Community members are sad because they are deprived of going to the synagogue but since the government has taken decisions for the safety of people, we can not complain,” said Samuel Elijah Daniel Bamnolkar, president, Shaar Hashamaim Synagogue, Thane.

The Mumbai and Thane regions have about 2,500 Jews of the estimated 5,000 Jews in India. During the 50s and 60s, India had about 65,000 Jews and over the years around 60,000 of them have either migrated to Israel or other countries.

The migration of the most of the Jews from South India to Israel has already happened over the last few years and most of the Jews currently staying in the Mumbai region have either migrated or are in the process of migrating, and many have already sent their children to Israel.

Eddna Samuel, originally from Thane, migrated to Israel two years ago and her son Kevin is in the Israeli army as per due procedure.

However, Ms. Samuel continues to remain loyal and connected to India by encouraging and facilitating business ties between Israeli companies seeking to do business here. This business matchmaking had increased after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India and his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she said.

“India and Israel’s relations are constantly deepening not just in business but also in strategic areas impacting human lives. Companies in both countries are partnering in areas such as agriculture, defence, security systems, medical equipment, technology, AI, cloud and robotics. Start-ups and entrepreneurs are exploring new avenues of collaboration and enterprise,” Ms. Samuel, director, Motif India, a consulting firm, said.

However, the dynamically changing geopolitical equations in the West Asia, especially between the UAE and Bahrain and Israel, and deeper trade and economic ties of Israel with India have offered hope of peace and prosperity in these troubled times.

The normalisation of relations will open up lots of opportunities at a time when ties between India and the UAE-GCC countries too are growing. The major focus for India-GCC-Israel collaboration is food security and agriculture.

Speaking about the low-key celebrations this year, Leena Moses Karkera, who was formerly working with Madhya Pradesh Tourism, said, “It’s very difficult for a Jew to survive without visiting the synagogue but these are not normal times. But we are happy that the change in mindset in Arab will usher in an era of peace and this will benefit everyone. There will be light at the end of the tunnel; since childhood we have been aspiring for peace.”

In the Hebrew month, the Rosh Hashanah celebrations continue over the weekend of September 18-20; this is followed by fasting and mourning on Day of Atonement Yom Kippur (September 27-28); this is followed by Sukkot (October 2-9) or the Feast of Harvest; and finally the spiritual holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (October 10-11).

In Tel Aviv, celebrations continued round the clock for an entire month in 2019 but this year is different because of the lockdown.

“Even as little children, we always looked forward to Rosh Hashanah. We have fond memories of the celebrations which we still stay true to till date. After prayers on the first day, we wish each other Le Shana Tovah (For a good year!) and exchange the Halwa,” Ms. Samuel said.

Community members said after so many years it was heartening to realise that people in West Asia want to live in peace and prosperity. Now the people of Israel and the UAE and Bahrain can finally meet and talk directly and gradually more Arab nations will join in.

It is a historical chance to work together, each bringing their own strengths and capabilities for the benefit of economic development in the region. And India, which is a traditional partner in the Gulf region and having special ties with Israel, can partner both Israel and other West Asian nations to maximise opportunity for it, they said.

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Printable version | Nov 1, 2020 1:23:00 AM |

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