The group was off to an early start with 8am breakfast. We were each personally served an omelet with toast and chai (tea), in s smaller than normal dinning room. As we finished eating we went downstairs to look around the gated community we are staying in, and found some school children getting ready for a sporting activity that seemed like the India equivalent to color war. We sat down to observe. Unfortunately, before the games even started, we were ushered off onto the bus for a very full day.
If the traffic was not enough, out first stop really exposed us to the Indian culture. We went to the cities Laundromat, where you could get your clothes picked up, cleaned, bleached, dried, ironed, and returned all for about ten rupees per shirt. This Laundromat was outside, using stream water, and overall a very different approach than the American way. After our brief stop we were off to an overlook of the city and Mumbai’s “Hanging Gardens.” Here, we not only got to see a beautiful view of the city, but felt like movie stars as local school children gave us high fives and jumped into pictures with us.
After the gardens we were off to the Mumbai home of Ghandi. The museum gave a brief overview of Ghandi’s philosophy and life. The group felt a strong emotional connection to him and gained significant insight into the strife of the country before its independence and struggle for its freedom. We then went to see one of Mumbai’s most famous landmarks, the Gateway of India, where we took many pictures.
After being exposed to Mumbai in a broad sense, we began getting down to the more direct part of the trip and went o visit the Knesset Eliyahu Synagogue. At this beautiful Bagdadian synagogue we were told historical details about the Jewish community in India. Then finally, we were off to lunch.
After stuffing our faces with fine Indian cuisine, we returned to the JCC for our first group reflection. We discussed how our experience in India has been thus far, and what our “rose, thorn, and bud,” the thing we enjoyed the most so far, the thing we detested the most, and the thing we were looking forward to the most in the day to come. Our conversation then segued into talking about community- How does one define community? What does it mean to be an individual in a community? What are our communities? These questions opened up some very interesting dialogue that will become an essential theme of our trip.
After reflection we traveled to the Mumbai suburb, Thane. At Thane we davened Ma’ariv, the evening prayer, at the Thane Synagogue, and learned about its fascinating history. We were then given the unique experience of watching the pre-circumcision ritual that is customary of Indian Jewry. We ate dinner at the Synagogue with some Indian youth and locals, then returned back to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.
Eitan Lefkowitz and Saul Shamash
December 23, 2010