Jew & far between
With 200 Jews going back to Israel annually, Jewish centres struggle for survival
For Noel Samson Chincholkar and his two sons, today could be his last Yom Kippur (a day of atonement and one of the holiest days for the Jews) in India. Like many Jews in the city, Chincholkar, who is originally from Mumbai and is now a farmer in Raigad district, is looking to migrate to Israel in a year’s time. Apart from faith, he has another compelling reason to go back to his roots — his children’s education.
No takers: In 1956, 90 per cent of the students at the Elly Kadoorie
School in Mazgaon were Jewish. Today, it does not have even one Jewish
student. PIC/SHADAB KHAN
“Most of my relatives are in Israel. Moreover, there is no proper school in the village and I want my children to learn more about their religion,” said Chincholkar. His older son, who is 13, goes to a Marathi-medium school, while the younger one (10), studies in a semi-English school (where even Marathi is used as a medium of instruction).
Unlike his children, Chincholkar went to an all-Jewish school in Mumbai and later attended a vocational training institute with mostly Jewish students. The institute, run by the Elly Kadoorie School in Mazgaon, has since shut down because the number of Jewish students has dwindled in the last decade.
“The hostel shut down as there were no Jewish students left,” he added.
And this seems to be the plight of all Jewish schools in Mumbai. The Sir Jacob Sassoon High School in Byculla had 40 students three years ago, but now the number has fallen to less than 20.
The worst hit are EEE Sassoon High School and Elly Kadoorie School, where the Jewish classes had to be shelved as not a single Jewish student remained. “We had to stop the Hebrew classes. However, we ensure that we have a Jewish prayer session in the morning,” said Ezra Moses, treasurer, Elly Kadoorie School.
So, where have all the Jewish boys and girls gone? Migration to Israel seems to be the major reason, says Solomon Sopher, chairman and managing trustee of Sir Jacob Sasoon Trust. “People are leaving for better opportunities,” he said.
Did the 26/11 terror attacks, which included a siege of the Jewish Chabad House, influence their decision to leave the city? “No, terror attacks have not affected us,” said Sopher.
But there is an uncertainty creeping into the community. “There is insecurity because of which Jews are leaving for Israel,” said Chincholkar.
And that’s not all. The community complains that the state and Centre have not accorded them minority status. “We have not been granted minority status. So the people are migrating to Israel where the government is giving lot of concessions,” said Moses.
However, efforts are being made to revive the culture. To ensure that the few Jews remaining in the city are well versed in Judaism, Torah and Hebrew, some synagogues in the city have started free classes. But, unfortunately, they don’t have many takers. “I have only nine students,” said Nanthaniel, a teacher at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in the Fort.
Ralphy Jhirad, vice-president of Federation of Indo-Israel Chamber of Commerce, feels that the problem lies with schools, which fail to attract Jewish students. “There is a lack of effort to reach out to the people who need education. Buses have to be provided and free education granted to those who need it,” argued Jhirad, who was once the director of the Organisation for educational Resources Technological Training, one of the oldest Jewish educational groups in the city,
Jhirad recalls that when he started out, some 20 years ago, almost all the students were Jewish. But their numbers have been declining since, with just 10 per cent of the city’s Jews in the organisation.
Sticking to tradition
But some Jews are reverting to community schools. Daniel Bamnolkar, caretaker of a Jewish cemetery, has started sending his children to the Jacob Sassoon School two years ago. “I want my kids to study in Jewish schools,” he added. He also ensures that they visit synagogues to learn more about Judaism.
But, is it too late? The general sentiment in the community is that providing better schools will not reduce the religious and economic allure of Israel. But, with just 3,000 to 4,000 of them left in the country, Jewish elders feel India will soon have no Jewish population left.
75,000 The number of Indian Jews who now live in Israel. They comprise only I per cent of the country’s population.
4,000 The approximate number of Jews living in India.
Did you know?
Israel has recently granted honorary citizenship to Sandra Samuels, the Indian nanny who risked her life to save Israeli toddler Moshe Holtzberg from the clutches of terrorists during the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Samuel was working for Moshe’s parents — Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka — at the Chabbad House in Nariman Point since their arrival in Mumbai in 2003.