Indian Jews at Home in Queens
India was one of only a few countries where the Jews from various parts of the world who migrated there were not persecuted said Romiel Daniel, President of the Indian Jewish Congregation of USA, who is also a Cantor in the Jewish faith. Daniel made this statement when he spoke before a capacity filled crowd in the auditorium of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan last week.
Daniel spoke for an hour or so, but kept the crowd riveted to their seats with interesting details about the migration of Jews from various parts of the world to India, where they settled, and prospered as artisans and businessmen. They first arrived in India in 175 BC and built their first synagogue in 1144 AD in Parur in Kerala State. At its peak, India was residence to about 40,000 Jews. Then from India these groups migrated to Israel and other parts of the world and in this migration a group also came to the U.S., where they are now educating others about their Indian heritage.
Indian Jews are strongly represented in the Rego Park area of Queens, but they are also spread out in Brooklyn and New Jersey. They are a small group of about 350 and are making their presence felt through lectures about their heritage in various forums. Their services are performed in the Village Temple, exactly as they did many years ago in India, in the Bene Israel tradition of the Indian Jews. Their motto is “Integration through Distinctiveness.”
This year, for the second time, they will also take part in the India Day parade in August and recently also took part in the Israeli Day parade.
Lael Daniel, son of the President, assists his father in educating others about their Indian heritage. He mentioned how their group had performed the services for Hanukkah in City Hall recently where A.R. Ghanashyam, the Deputy Consul General for India, had been the Chief Guest.
Both Romiel and Lael Daniel, in their research, have found that the Jews of India consist of four distinct groups: the Cochin Jews (in the State of Kerala), the Baghdadis, the Bene Israel and the B’nei Menashe. Today there are fewer than 5,000 Jews in India and their lives revolve around the 14 synagogues and two schools that still exist.