A trip to Mumbai could not be complete without seeing its Jewish community. The 26/11 attacks, which included an assault on Mumbai’s Jewish Center, claimed the lives of 166 people, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivke, who ran the city’s Chabad House.
Chabad houses around the world are known for welcoming weary Jewish travelers and providing food and TLC, as well as supporting the local Jewish population. In Seoul, Chabad was one of my favorite places to see friends, attend services and eat amazing (and kosher) food. It wouldn’t have been right for me to visit Mumbai without attending Shabbat services at one of the local synagogues. Friend Ariel spent a year here working with the city’s Jewish population, and her stories alone made me want to experience a Mumbai Shabbat.
The century-old Keneseth Eliyahoo synagogue in the Fort neighborhood is absolutely stunning. The bright blue and white structure stands out from the drab buildings surrounding it. The security guard posted out front put me at ease as I walked inside and up the stairs to the women’s section. The old synagogue is showing its age and is in dire need of restoration, but it was easy to picture the building as it once was, lively and bright and filled with kavanah.
It’s been a long time since I’ve attended services anywhere, but the words still came easily and I was filled with a sense of wholeness as we made our way through the service. This community has been through a lot, but it is still here and thriving, and that alone amazes me. There are several thousand Jews in Mumbai, but only two dozen were at synagogue that night, a little disheartening when you think about it. But my reservations went away and shivers ran down my spine as the dozen or so men started dancing and clapping and singing a niggun after “Lecha Dodi,” the song meant to welcome the Sabbath bride. Watching the men–old men, young men, Israelis, Indians, Americans–grow louder and louder as they danced with their arms around each other, the sound of their voices reverberating off the walls of the old shul, I was reassured that despite the events of 26/11 and terrorist attempts to destroy the heart of the city’s Jewish community, this place was going to be just fine.