Ezekiel Isaac Malekar came to Delhi from his home-state Maharashtra 27 years ago and fell in love with the city in no time. While old-timers are fond of saying how things have gone from bad to worse for the city, for him the love has only grown.
So much that Malekar — a voluntary Jewish priest now in his late forties — has stuck to this city at the cost of staying away from his parents and relatives who moved to Israel. “Jews have faced persecution everywhere, except India. Being a Jew, Israel is in my heart, but India is in my blood. And everything about Delhi complements that spirit,” he says. Every week, Malekar leads his folk of Jewish Delhiites to the prayers of the Sabbath held at a synagogue on Humayun Road next to his house.
Despite being adjacent to the busy Khan Market and a stone’s throw from Delhi’s flagship public place — India Gate — the Judah Hyam Synagogue, with its few chairs and a dais with the holy book of Torah facing the east, has been there as one of Delhi’s best-kept secrets for half a century. “Despite being at a conspicuous location, our communions do not attract much attention. They simply cannot because they are never very large,” Malekar smiles. Just around 40 people or ten families make up the community of Jewish Delhiites, making it one of the smallest if not the smallest religious communities in Delhi.
“Jews have been living in Delhi for 2,000 years. All of the earliest Jewish families who lived in Bara Tuti in the old city for ages have either moved away or are now lost. But being a small community, we are very close-knit here,” he says. Being small has not deterred the handful of Jewish Delhiites from bringing in liberal reforms in their age-old religious rites.
Delhi’s is the only synagogue where women, too, can form the symbolic ten-people group known as Minyan, for public worship or ‘Kaddish’ — a bold departure from tradition. Rites apart, Malekar says his world in Delhi has been compatible to his identity.
For instance, people at the National Human Rights Commission, where he works, greet him with “Shalom”. He is respected as an authority on Judaism among the Capital’s spiritual intelligentsia. “My two children, both grownup now, are as Delhiite as one can be. And we enjoy eating Malida, our traditional sweet dish, as much as we savour the chaat outside the UPSC building,” he says.
His ageing parents moved to Israel last year and have been calling him to settle there ever since. But Malekar has never changed his mind: “Outsiders may never know that there is something in this city that charms its people. And I am happy to remain enchanted.” Clearly, Delhi’s love affair is still as strong as it was 27 years ago with Ezekiel Isaac Malekar.