Photo Credit: Tazpit News Agency
A group of 22 young Indian Jews visit Israel for their first time during an all-expense paid Taglit-Birthright trip in June.

One of the most densely populated cities in the world, Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is home to the majority of India’s Jewish population. Among the 12 million people that make up the city, some 4,000 Jews live in the city.

While many of India’s Jews have immigrated to Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere, around 5,000 Jews continue to live in the ancient community, which according to some sources dates back to the time of King Solomon.

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A group of 22 young Indian Jews, mostly from the Mumbai area recently visited Israel on a free Taglit-Birthright Israel educational trip for 10 days (June 5-14) to explore the Jewish state and meet with their Israeli peers, some of Indian origin as well.

“It was an amazing trip,” said Adina Tambde, 21, from Mumbai in an interview with Tazpit News Agency. “I didn’t feel like a tourist here; I felt very at home. Israel is very welcoming,” she told Tazpit. “The moment when we first landed was very special.”

“It’s easier to keep kosher here – you can eat almost anywhere,” Tambde told Tazpit. “Although 10 days, without spicy food was a bit hard,” she joked.

Tambde also met her Israeli cousin for her first time during the trip – Tomer, who is an IDF soldier and accompanied the group for some of the visit. “I don’t have Jewish friends back in India,” she said. “Two days before the trip, I found out that I had a cousin that I would meet. Adina’s uncle had made aliyah to Israel years before and Tomer grew up in Holon.

Tambde recently completed her college studies in business in Mumbai and is currently exploring options to pursue her master’s degree in Israel. “In India, people admire you for being Jewish and it’s safe for Jews there,” she says. “But it’s difficult to fully follow Judaism and traditions too.”

It was Adina’s first visit to Israel like the other Indian Jewish participants. The group toured around the country, including Tiberias, Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem,Yad Vashem, and an Indian spice shop in the Ramle market.

The first Taglit-Birthright trip for Indian Jews, with around 12 participants, took place in 2001. Since then, the numbers have grown, with as many as 40 participants in some years. In 2014, around 32 Indian Jews took part in the Taglit-Birthright trip.

Sifron Penkar, 26, from Pune, near Mumbai, told Tazpit that many things about Israel surprised him. “There’s a lot more discipline here – drivers stop at the red light,” he says. “Mumbai is a lot busier, chaotic.”

The technological and scientific advances of Israel attracted Penkar, who also said he came to check out work opportunities during the trip. He wants to work on improving his Hebrew when he returns to India through “self-study.”

For others, like 18-year-old Steffi Elias, who studies fashion design in India, the trip to Israel was a significant spiritual experience. “The Wailing Wall had a huge spiritual impact on me,” she said. “I would love to come back here in the future but we will see where time takes me,” she told Tazpit. “I’m too young to decide where my future will be now.”

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25 COMMENTS

  1. The population of Mumbai is 12 M and can't compare with Israel like vehicles don't respect Red Lights! She must be grateful that she grew up in India, the only country probably where there has never been anti-Semitism for 3000 years and she's allowed to practice her religion.

    Wish her and the 4000 Jews remaining best of luck in making Aliyah with Israel, though, with time, they would be able to live without the spicy foods !

    About not being able to observe the traditions, I think, she's speaking for herself and not necessarily for other Indian Jews as such is not the case.

    There are 3 distinct groups of Jews in India. Each of the 3 groups maintained its separate identity with little admixture. The story of the Jews in India has on the whole been a happy one where Jews dwelt in complete security and have been accorded an honorable place in the social structure of the land. India, predominantly a Hindu country of more than a billion people has approx. 130 million Moslems, 25 million Christians and less than 5000 Jews. She has been a generous mother but the pull of Israel besides economic factors prompted the Jews to emigrate. However with 14 synagogues and 2 Jewish schools still functioning, the fear of extinction has been kept at bay.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/06/pictures-indian-jews-keep-herit-201462571734180212.html

    Consider reading the World's Oldest Jewish Community is in …. INDIA?
    http://www.ijn.com/special-sections/lchaim-spring/3031-the-worlds-oldest-jewish-community-is-in-india

  2. Interesting! Opened my mind a little- I hadn't considered what young indian jews might think when visiting Israel. I've been there myself on a birthright trip, and found it equally refreshing to be able to confidently explore my judaism. But coming from india must be such a different experience- definitely a cool article and great story.

  3. Her comment did not sound at all critical of her Mother Land; I think she was just stating the obvious. Without much Jewish infrastructure, due to the small number of Jews there, it is more difficult to practice Judaism in India then Israel. It is a cultural issue that places no blame on India.

  4. Eliyahu Goldberg no not at all all their synagogues are standing tall , no body has touched them, there is no cultural issue how can be a culttural issue when they are staying here for more then 2000 yrs ? The problem is in Hinduism we are idiots we embrace every body & in turn we get kicks on our asses.

  5. As a non-Jew, living in America, that there are Jews in India is eye-opening..! Good article. Hope many young Jews, from all over the world, decide to make aliyah, leaving little doubt that the land of Israel indeed does belong to the Jewish people!

  6. Karan Veer Singh You have totally misunderstood what is being said. No one is berating India or its wonderful people. What I know was meant was that observant Jews can eat virtually anywhere in Israel without wondering if the food is kosher. That situation doesn"t exist anywhere else in the world . It is no criticism of Mother India nor of the Hindu people whom Jews embrace as genuine friends.

    Please trust me. I adore India, I always have.

  7. Karan Veer Singh, that's not the point. I believe that the lady's point was that with Judaism's dietary laws, its very difficult to keep kosher. I live in a non-Jewish area of Metro-Detroit, and have touble keeping kosher, so I can relate to what is left unsaid in her comment. You're being far too thin skinned.

  8. For a very important Jewish prayer we need 10 Jewish men.And it is very difficult to get them period. We are command to observe shabbat but not all can get holiday of Saturday. It is just not praticalbly possible. that's what she implied and not religious oppression. Nobody denies that India has been the best place for religious tolerance.

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