In a moving ceremony that was held at the Western Wall earlier this week, dozens of young Jews from India celebrated their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. They were also given Hebrew names. They came as part of the Birthright project, after a five-year hiatus since a group from India visited Israel.
For most of the participants, this was their first visit to Israel and the Kotel. Their excitement peaked when the bar and bat mitzvah celebrants, ages 18 to 25, went up to the Torah as their friends sang “Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov,” and threw candies at them, in keeping with the Jewish custom.
Among the celebrants were a brother and sister, Eliran, 19, and Ma’ayan, 20, who were born in Mumbai and made aliyah as children, but their family soon returned to India because the parents found integration in the new country difficult. Now Eliran and Ma’ayan are considering making aliyah again, and Eliran even plans to enlist in the IDF and serve as a combat soldier. “We want to make aliyah and return to Israel for good. I hope to be a fighter and do my part,” he said.
Sujay Navarker, 21, said: “I received the name Netzah at my Bar Mitzvah ceremony. I think we should help the IDF win and I want to do my part. I am excited to have met everyone here, and got to know more Jews from Mumbai.”
Roshanah Tambada, 21, received her unique first name because she was born on Rosh Hashanah. “I am excited to be here with everyone and I would like us to establish a new community of young Jews from Mumbai. It is very exciting to be with the Jews in the State of Israel. I no longer feel alone,” she said.
Mumbai is home to an estimated 1,500 Jews, with a total population of close to 12 million, but the city does not have an organized Jewish community.
“That’s why we don’t know each other even though we’re from the same city,” one group member said with a smile.
“They had to come to Israel to learn there were other Jews in their city,” the group’s guide noted.
Some of the young men and women have modern Israeli names such as Shahaf, Ofek, Eliran, and Lior. Many of them are visiting Israel for the first time, others have family in Israel. Some intend to stay for a while after the program ends and say they are familiar with the country.
Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark said: “We are delighted to bring to Israel the first group of participants from India in about five years. Our summer season is in full swing, and we are expecting to bring some 30,000 young Jews from dozens of countries to Israel. The possibility of bringing tens of thousands of young Jews to Israel every year is a key factor in strengthening the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, and we continue to expand our activities all the time.”
Hannah Pri-Zan, the chairperson of the Israel Experience––the Jewish Agency’s education subsidiary that brought the group to Israel and partnered with Birthright in the visit program, said: “It was very moving to meet the participants from India during the powerful ceremony at the Western Wall. I am confident that the Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremonies will be an important milestone in strengthening their identity and connection to Israel.”