“Hello! This is Sam, the Jewish guy” I said, “Can I come see the synagogue today?”
He agreed to meet with me on short notice.
I arrived late after catching a brief breakfast at the Chabad; tucked away in the backpacker district, hidden inside an alley way among Israeli shops. After circling the well-manicured streets, the rickshaw driver finally found the small compound behind a tall wall. Ezekiel was having lunch and had changed from his parade clothes expecting from me a no-show; unwilling to pose for a picture in his cotton white pants, white shirt and sandals.
The synagogue was a small blue one story building. Inside, chairs lined the walls and a grapefruit tree in a pot was near the Ark. The Beemah, small compared to other synagogues stood in the center facing the Ark in the corner..
Not all is always so easy. There I realized I booked a ticket for the next night, came back to the hotel and had a good time with new friends at the hotel and wish Nav a safe trip to the spiritual city Varanasi next morning. It was my luck to stay another day to see the Amber fort and the royal observatory court where dozens of sundials stood to calculate the trajectory of Earth with second precision by gigantic structures that are hard to imagine built so long ago.
After a quick shower and introductions, I headed for center of Mumbai to get to the main Synagogue for breaking of Yom Kippur fast, day of repentance. It wasn’t easy to find but ultimately, with help from a music playing college student and intuition, I made it to a fortified building with armored cars in front where I was let in to see the end of kiddush.
The Jews of India never felt the persecution that the European Ashkenaz felt, possibly because of the nature of the country or maybe because they were more Indian after thousands of years. In a country with some of the largest and oldest religious diversity, it is easy to imagine relatively calm life for the 80,000 until the Pakistan-India split.
When the state of Israel formed, the Kolkata and Cochin Jews left and only a few thousand stayed in Mumbai and Ahmdabad. A few villages where Jews compose the majority still exist on outskirts of Mumbai.
That afternoon I met up with Lera, a half-Jewish Bollywood actress I first met in Kiev when applying for my Visa. We spent several days, going to a Synagogue near the largest laundry in the world and the slums where the workers live. Along with David we went to Jehu beach to see Hindus send off Ghanesh idols into the sea as well as walking through malls and slums of Mumbai. As always, there is a bitter sweet feeling with India. The chaos makes you want to leave but the chaos tugs at heartstrings like any passionate relationship. I didn’t want to leave but I made it on the last train out to Kolkata, buying the last seat on the train with just enough time to spare for a last cup of chai.
My laptop broke on the train and with nothing to distract me, I laid on my giant first class cot, thinking back over the last few days of Mumbai, before taking out my screwdriver set and extracting a loose spring short circuiting the RAM chip.
The train sped along at 100-120kmph, doing its best to get me to the airport on time to fly to Bangkok for my southeast Asia tour. The train stopped as I napped, a broken hub delayed us by four hours and we were lucky to be alive and not derail. I was lucky that the car with broken hub was three cars behind and not in front. I watched passengers walk off the train to wait for next days train and thought of the train in Jules Verne’s “80 Days Around the World” and like in the book, I made it in the nick of time to pay exorbitantly for taxi to the airport where I was upgraded to first class free of charge. The plane took off for Bangkok, but my heart stayed, there down bellow in India like heart of a traveler in a Sahara oasis.