Just arrived back from the French Alps where we met some Jewish people from Lyon. The ever-expanding Jewish world is incredibly warm.
Once I was sitting with a newly found acquaintance at a coffee shop at a fashionable shopping area in Buenos Aires. I felt that the lady in the next table was paying a lot of attention, I thought perhaps at my beautiful companion, who was argentine born but did not look anything like an Argentine!
Is your friend from India? she eventually ventured. Then she continued: I am a devotee of Sai Baba, does he know about him?
To make a long story short, the lady in question was from Montevideo, Uruguay and had the surname of Hallegua: I have met Jews with that surname in Holland, Miami, Cochin and Havana. The photographer from Holland, a Hallegua wanted me to say hello to mr Hallegua in Havana…
Would you believe me, if I say to you that this Uruguayan lady follower of Sai Baba sipping café in Buenos Aires was a cousin of the Halllegua, the photographer who lives in Holland?
When I told the Rabbi at the Buenos Aires Synagogue that I had a collection of Nats, they are pre Buddhist spirits prominent in the Buddhist syncretism in Burma.
He said to me.. We don't worship Idols. I did not want to show him this photo at the
Blue House among the Indians where I stay when I visit the UmonHon Indians:
You see the two menorahs from Cochin in India along with a Nat, to whom I say thanks each time I arrive at the Blue House after long journeys to reach there.
Welcoming the Shabbat in the French Alps in the company of our friends from Lyon, I recited the prayers in the orders as it was done at the Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica.
It was my brother Joseph and his wife my sister Jackie, who introduced me to the Jewish Life in Jamaica and I still remember meeting Meyer M (whose grandfather had been born in Damascus) and his Panamanian born wife S who had presented me with the newly published Prayer Book of the Community.
My good friends M and his South African born wife G have visited the Synagogue.
Rudolph Cohen Henriques, a Jamaican Jew, designed the synagogue.
This synagogue was built in the early 20th century, but Jews have been present in Jamaica longer than its predominantly African population. . Jews have been present in Jamaica since mid 1500s. The Mallorca mapmaker who accompanied
Columbus and landed in Jamaica (Luis Torres) may have been the first ever Jew to have landed in Jamaica.
As is customary among the Jews who suffered under
The Inquisition, the floor of the synagogue is covered with sand, as it is said that it will silence the sound of their steps as they prayed
In secret. In the Jamaican liturgy there is still a prayer, in Portuguese, remembering our brothers who were tortured by the Inquisition.
I have seen the sand on the floor in the synagogues in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, the Sephardi synagogue in Rhodes,
Many years later while discussing a paper written about a special kind of eye disease that affected Cubans in the western provinces, it was very warm to discover that the Neuro Ophthalmology professor not only knew my good friends and professors Glaser and Shatz in Miami but also was descended from Jews of Rhodes.
Toledano is a name familiar to Rhodos Jews and you can find that name in the isolated town of Iquitos (no roads, only by river or air you can reach there) where in the main street, the supermarket proudly bears the name of its founder: COHEN
The current synagogue in Cochin in Kerala India has stood there since 1568, on the site of a synagogue, which had been there since
1344 of the Common Era. While the local Jewish community emigrated en mass to Israel on its establishment, there is a current interest
in the synagogue by the Chabad, which has established locally to cater for the thousands of Israelis who visit this beautiful part of
Currently Shabbat and holiday celebrations are held at which time no tourists are allowed but on other times, it is one of the most visited tourist sites for Indians and foreigners.
There are many other synagogues (currently not in use), Jewish cemeteries and buildings of Jewish interest in and around Cochin. There is only one Jewish family left, Elias and his wife
Ofra and their two daughters, Avital and Lea. There are 25 other local Jews and many transient Jews including the Israeli Naval contingent. The tiles were brought from China and no two are alike, and there is an interesting story how the Jews got it cheap from the ruling Raja.
Outside of Cochin, India most of the Jewish communities have strong trade connections with Iraqi Jews: Calcultta, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong.
It was poignant for me, a reminder of the modern day anti Jewish feeling in the developing world, such as Malaysia that there are no longer any Jews in Malaysia and Israelis are not allowed to enter… to visit the Cemetery in Penang which is now part of Malaysia.
The last picture I want to show you is the one I have visited with my brother Bombay Born, Kobe brought up, American brother with a Canadian Egyptian wife and their three Mizrahi American children.
It is in Rangoon, the capital of Burma. The last time I was there just two years ago, there were only 8 Jews left. Because of the opening of the country to foreigners and businesses I expect
Chabad to move in and regular services to be held in the future.
The Iraqi Jewish merchants built the synagogue in 1854. An earlier wooden synagogue had burned down. Mr. Moshe Samuels is the gabbai and
Caretaker of this synagogue and he can be easily localized. His son, Samuel, graduated from Yeshiva University and I think Hebrew University is probably the only Hebrew
Speaking Burmese Jew even though Israel has an embassy in Rangoon.
(here is a historic photograph of Ben Gurion visiting Rangoon and dressed in traditional Burmese dress including longyi)
So my dear friends, wherever you are (one Erev Yom Kippur I was with Ron Raab from Melbourne, Australia, the founder of the charity Insulin for Life which provides
Insulin for many hundreds of patients with Diabetes all around the Developing world. We were in Kratie in Cambodia by the Mekong River, but did our prayers and I had a small
bottle of red wine handy)
may you be blessed for another good year to come.
will be thinking of all of you : especially my jewish friends in Cochin, Rangoon and Kingston as well as La Habana, Cuba
Adela Zworin, the president of the Jewish Community of Havana, Cuba with a well known visitor on a recent Hanukkah celebration.
La Shanah Tova Tikketevu