You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis
They claim that they are one of the lost tribe from the twelve tribes of Israel and a lineage to Prophet Moses. Let’s know more about them through Rabbi (priest) of only Jewish Synagogue in the capital, Ezekiel Isaac Malekar.
Between Taj Mahal Hotel and Khan Market metro station is the Judah Hyam Synagogue. There was Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar waiting at the gate to guide us in where at the entrance wall it is written, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of the knowledge’. Inside the room there is a pulpit with some books kept in the middle, surrounded by chairs. Rabbi puts on his kippah (skullcap) as he settles down in chair, he is not very tall but calm in voice with a gentle smile, just like a preacher is supposed to be. Finally he gestures to begin the tête-à-tête with his open arms.
“Jews have been living in this country for more than 2000 years. India is among few countries in the world where this community has not faced persecution or what we know as holocaust. First group to reach India before the destruction of Second Temple (Wailing Wall) was Bani Isra’il (children of Israel) when they had a ship wreck. They landed in Naugao village in former district Konkan near Mumbai now known as Rajgarh. Now when DNA test was conducted it has been proved that we have lineage to Prophet Moses.” Well that is a big claim, he also understands that and to make sure he continues explaining. “After landing in India they got scattered in nearby areas. That is why my surname is Malekar which is the name of a village, Male. Like any other Maharastran surnames, Mangeshkar, Gavaskar or Tendulkar. In the Old Testament (Bible), in the books of Esther, first sentence says that King Ahasuerus ruled from Ethiopia to India. There was spice trade between Israel and India in the time of King Solomon.”
Now that connection is made, next thing that comes to mind is why they are so less in number though it is one of the oldest religion. To which he also take a deep sigh, “In around India we have 5000 to 6000 Jews, out of which 4000 are in Mumbai. There are ten synagogues in Mumbai, two in Pune with around 250 -300 of them. There are three Synagogues in Kolkata, and in Cochin we have the oldest Synagogue which is 800 years old with 3-4 families. And here in the capital we have 7-8 families with around 40 people. Also, we are joined regularly for Friday prayers and other festivals by the diplomats from Embassies and High Commissions.” Slowly as we walk the talk, he takes out the traditional prayer shawl and Shofar (ram’s horn) to show how the holy book Torah is read at religious ceremonies. “There are some groups coming up in Manipur and Mizoram claiming that they one of the lost tribe Bane-Minashi (children of Minashi). In Machilipatnam (Andhra Pradesh), there are 100 Jews who claim to be Bane-Ibrahim (children of Ibrahim) and also a group of Pathans in Malihadabad, Uttar Pradesh. Therefore DNA tests are going on to ascertain these.” On second thought, are all these claims for the facilities given by the Israeli government who settles down there? Even his own mother and brother and most of the family are already settled there. “Jews are migrating to Israel and European countries, there are around 130, 000 Jews in Israel from Indian origin. We are going to be a rare species in few years time,” laughs the preacher.
He blew the horn which signifies the cleaning of the soul and the surrounding before the rituals. Then he starts chanting from the holy book Torah. I really don’t know whether the prayer worked or not but one thing for sure comes in the mind, why so much for religion? For something which mankind has just followed without any proper explanation? “Judaism is about one god and being a good human being. I believe that my religion is to serve humanity, it is above all the religion. Thinking, an awakening and which purifies oneself. Other religion also believes in one god, what does Hinduism teaches you, manifestation of one almighty god which you find in different things, shapes and figures but finally it sums up to Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Ultimately it is what Rig Veda says, ekam sath praha bhudanidi (truth can be named by many names). Also as Swami Vivekananda says, you can be born in any religion but you can’t die in it. That’s why I tell my friends not to get stuck with one religious book but read all. When religion did came into existence, was their religion 7000 or 8000 years back? There was none, we human being just created it,” a rabbi trying hard to convince but making me a plain human more confused.
Today as we look around, all the wars and killings is done in the name of religion. To which he thinks, “Don’t blame god for everything. There is good and bad in everybody, it depends on what one chooses to do. Today religion is being misused, abused, and used only in the emergency. It was supposed to be used in everyday life. Like what happened in Godhara or Babri Masjid or Afghanistan. Don’t blame the religion but custodians of the religions, they are the ones responsible. We use religion for selfish purposes and motives or politics.” But with the changing time, even his religion has done adjustments. “Delhi synagogue which started in 1956 is the only synagogue in the country where there is no segregation between man and woman. They sit together during the worship ceremony. And we even welcome non-Jewish to come and worship with us. Also there is a quorum of ten men to read the holy book but here we even count women to do so. We have taken some progressive steps like this. Because Ten-Commandment says honor thy parents not that honor your father only. I am the only rabbi in India who has done inter-faith marriages not in synagogue but in banquette and other places,” says the holy man.
However his son (25) doesn’t share the same idea with him, who is a drummer and teaches music in Delhi School of Music. “I wanted my son to take over me but for him music is everything and doesn’t want to follow any religion. He wants to be just a good human being. He thinks that whatever is happening in this world is because of the spiritual leaders, so he says that he will do the good acts but don’t make him a religious leader.” Quickly he talks about his daughter who is more into his interest, “For my daughter (27), there were talks that if there is going to be a woman rabbi then it has to be her. But she got married. She is a Mass Communication student from Jamia Milia Islamia University. There was hue and cry about a Jewish girl studying in Muslim university. Later on she made many friends over there and they came to synagogue, I prayed and blessed them. They also invited us in their festivals like Eid ul Fitr.”
Ezekiel Isaac Malekar is a lawyer by profession and he has been taking care of the synagogue voluntarily for the last 25 years. He has been also awarded Ambassador of Peace and Mahavir Mahamata Award for preserving Jewish culture in India. “I have served in Air Force (seven years as stenographer), Army, then Ministry of Health and I was the Deputy Secretary in the Human Right Commission. I write and I can practice in the court of law but I am avoiding that temptation, money is not everything. I am not paid here.” Finally, after all the conversation what was most convincing was when he said, “What divide us is when we say I am representing Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Sikhism but nobody says I am an Indian. In 1993 when Shimon Peres then Prime Minister of Israel (now President) visited the synagogue I was asked by BBC and CNN to express my feeling for Israel in India. I said that Israel is in my heart but India is in my blood. We are proud to be here. It is a great country where we have taken birth, this is our Karmabhumi and Israel is our dharmabhumi.” Well said!
(Published in Mandate Aug ’13, Page No. 78)