Exploring the World’s Jewish Communities


Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue in Mumbai. CreditWorld Monuments Fund

The website is devoted to telling the stories of Jewish communities around the world through the videos and photos Mr. Wall takes on trips, some of which are for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee relief and rescue organization. On it are his discoveries of synagogues, restaurants, community centers, even wineries. “There’s a lot more than ghettos and shtetls to see,” Mr. Wall said. Recently Mr. Wall talked about Jewish communities he’s visited. Following are edited excerpts.

Q. Where did you find a lesser-known side of Jewish culture?

A. Cape Town is a small but a very vibrant community, with a couple of good museums and the oldest synagogue in South Africa — the Great Synagogue, they call it — built in 1841.

Harry D. Wall. 

Its great migration came at the end of the 19th century, almost entirely from Lithuania. And they got involved in so many different areas, started as peddlers and shopkeepers. They were allowed, from the beginning, to be involved in all aspects of society, so they made a significant contribution culturally. Even the wine in Stellenbosch, there’s a couple of wineries started by Jews; Graham Beck is probably the best known among them. Some of the most outspoken people in the anti-apartheid movement were Jewish, Helen Suzman, for example. The South African Jewish Museum goes into that.

What’s another small community? 

Mumbai has about 4,000 Jews living there today. Most have roots in a community called Benne Israel. They claim they arrived over 2,000 years ago on a boat fleeing Palestine and got shipwrecked on the Konkan Coast.

Though many Indian Jews have emigrated to the West or to Israel, there are a few synagogues that remain. Magen Hasidim synagogue, architecturally, isn’t very remarkable, but it is the main gathering place for the community, holidays, services, weddings and bar mitzvahs. The Magen David Synagogue was built in 1864, sponsored by the philanthropist David Sassoon. His community was known as the Bagdahdi Jews, those who arrived from Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. It’s light blue with a clock tower, the only time I ever saw one on a synagogue. Knesset Eliyahoo is another synagogue built by the Sassoon family. We had a Sabbath meal at the Joint Distribution Committee in Mumbai. Instead of challah, there was chapati bread, did the blessing over that, and tandoori chicken. Moshe’s has wonderful food, a mixture of Mediterranean and Indian. It’s always interesting to see how Jewish communities take on the local coloration.

Where were you most surprised?

Krakow, where a younger Jewish community has emerged around theJewish Community Center. They have some really good programs: literature, Torah readings, Hebrew lessons. I went to a Shabbat dinner, where there was easily a hundred people, and you get by easily in English. These are young people who may have had Jewish grandparents who were afraid of connecting with this culture, so it’s all emerging right now.

And this is only 60 miles from Auschwitz and right in the Old Jewish Quarter of Krakow, which for the most part is a bit of Disney World experience. You have these trams driving through and klezmer groups playing continuously, though they’re not Jewish musicians. It’s a bit kitschy, and you can sometimes question the tastefulness and the commercialization because you’re near hallowed ground there. You can have mixed feelings about it.

But you have the great synagogues there. You have the wonderful Galicia Jewish Museum there and this new younger community. On balance I think it is positive because it engages people.

Segun tomado de, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/travel/exploring-the-worlds-jewish-communities.html?mabReward=RI%3A11&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0  el martes, 16 de sept. de 2014.

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