Volume 75, Number 26 | November 16 -22, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

From left Rabbi Chava Koster of the Village Temple, Romiel Daniel, presiding officer of the Indian Jewish Congregation, and Cantor Kathy Barr.

Temple’s prayer books will make passage to India

BY Hannah Seligson

In an usual twist of fate, the Village Temple and the American East Indian Jewish community were brought together 11 years ago. Lael Daniel, an Indian Jew who had recently immigrated to the United States, was flipping through the phonebook, looking for a place where his community could hold High Holidays services. “I came across the Village Temple and,” said Daniel, who now lives on Long Island, “we have been coming here ever since.”

There are about 5,000 Jews in India, mostly living in the south. There are 300 Indian Jews in the United States.

Indian Jews from all over America — some as far as California, but mostly from the tristate area — come to the Village Temple for the High Holidays, while the Village Temple congregation holds High Holidays services at Cooper Union.

Now, the partnership between the Village Temple and the Indian Jewish community has expanded beyond sharing space. In response to flooding in July that destroyed the 1849 Beth-El Synagogue in Panvel, Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), India, and its ritual objects and prayer books, the Village Temple, a Reform Jewish congregation of 350 families in Greenwich Village, is making the donation of 100 chumashim — Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, published with English translation and commentary — to the Indian Jewish Congregation in Mumbai.

The recent floods left the large industrial city of Mumbai in disarray, as a result of the 39 inches of rain that fell in one day.

“When we heard about the events in Mumbai, we felt like we should reach out,” said Rabbi Chava Koster of the Village Temple. “It was really an opportunity to let all Jews — no matter where they live — know they are responsible for each other. People are very excited about it.”

In a second twist of fate, the Village Temple had just bought new chumashim. As mandated by Jewish law, they were required to bury the old ones. Instead, though, they decided to donate those prayer books to the Mumbai synagogue. “We had all these old prayer books, which were going to have to bury; so it is far better to send them to someplace where they can be used,” said William Abrams, co-president of the Village Temple. “Instead of just putting them in a box and shipping them off, though, we decided to have a joint service and bring the two communities together.”

For members of the Indian Jewish community the partnership with the Village Temple means a great deal. “There was no organized congregation of Indian Jews in the United States and now we have a place where we can gather for the High Holidays,” said Romiel Daniel, presiding officer of the Indian Jewish Congregation, who lives in Queens and is father of Lael.

Members of both congregations hope this is only the beginning of a partnership between the Village and Mumbai congregations. “We are trying to broker ourselves as a sister community to the Jewish community in Mumbai,” said Rabbi Koster. “Hopefully, we will set up some educational programs and health programs and this partnership will be ongoing. We want to see what the Jews of India need and how we can be helpful in setting up an ongoing link between the communities.”

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