Delhi Jews


FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: In an ancient, crowded land with wide religious diversity, Judaism has a tiny footprint. In New Delhi, it’s in this quiet enclave. A small group of worshipers gathers here every Friday, a mix of foreigners and Indians. In India’s ancient religious mosaic, Judaism is a newcomer. Its roots go back only two millennia.

EZEKIAL MALEKAR (Judah Hyam Synagogue): When Israel, the oldest Jewish community, landed, they were shipwrecked, and they came to India about 2,000 years ago.

DE SAM LAZARO: There were at least two subsequent mini-waves that brought Jews to India: people fleeing the Inquisition and people who came during British colonial days as traders. There were perhaps 30,000 Jews across the country at one time, but many moved to Israel after its formation in 1948.

post03-delhijewsMALEKAR: Now we have only 5,000 Jews all over India, and in Delhi we have just 5, 6 Indian-Jewish families. We are like a drop in the ocean.

DE SAM LAZARO: Ezekiel Malekar is the keeper of Delhi’s tiny synagogue, built in 1956 on land donated by the Indian government. A lawyer and retired civil servant, he’s not an ordained rabbi, but for three decades Malekar has volunteered to lead this congregation, reconciling its ancient rituals and traditions with the practical modern reality.

MALEKAR: In order to read this portion of the Torah you require a quorum of 10 men, what we call in Hebrew minyan, so here we take into consideration the presence of women also. Some people don’t like it, especially those who are very Orthodox when they come to the synagogue. But I said that we are such a small community that if I have these practices I won’t be able to conduct the services in the synagogue.

DE SAM LAZARO: The majority of India’s remaining Jews live in the commercial capital, Mumbai. It was in this city during the 2008 terrorist attacks that six people were killed at a Jewish community center that mainly served Israelis and Western visitors and businesspeople. Since then, the Delhi synagogue has also come under 24-hour protection from the Indian government—the first time Jews here have ever faced the specter of violence.

post02-delhijewsMALEKAR: Jews have been living in India for the last 2000 years and without anti-Semitism and persecution, and therefore I always say that India is our motherland. I am an Indian first and Jew second. When Mr. Shimon Peres came here…

DE SAM LAZARO: …the president of Israel…

MALEKAR: The president of Israel. I was asked by the BBC media that what is your feeling about Israel and India? And I said that Israel is in my heart, but India is in my blood.

DE SAM LAZARO: But those who call themselves Indian and Jewish are fewer and fewer. One of Malekar’s sad tasks is to tend the cemetery, whose census now exceeds the congregation in the synagogue next door.

MALEKAR: This is the last place, where we go to the divine abode.

DE SAM LAZARO: On a happier note, Malekar will soon preside over his daughter Shulamit’s wedding, which will be a historic event in Delhi’s Jewish community.

MALEKAR: I don’t remember even after 1956 there has been a single wedding in the synagogue.

DE SAM LAZARO: At 66, Malekar will finally witness a marriage here between two Indian Jews, leaving only the worry about who from the handful of young congregants might be willing to take over from him.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in New Delhi.

  • Channah

    These steadfast and faithful Jews touch my heart. The thing that I think now is——-when Shulamit has children, where will they find husbands and wives? There are so few Jews left there, they must go outside the community to find these for themselves, or become too imbred and both are sad situations. At this point, and as people die, how long will the community last?

  • vikas singh

    i am an indian jewish and i want the membership of delhi synagogue .please help me .
    by vikas sion

  • Howard B.

    Very moving. Be sure to watch the video and not just read the transcript.

    It would be wonderful for the program to do a series of reports on isolated and/or little known Jewish communities.

  • Indian Jew

    Dear Editor Although I now live in Canada I am an Indian Jew who lived in Delhi before and moved to Canada because I my Jewish values and principles were shaken. The community in Delhi is the only community the press visits 99% when they want to write about Indian Jew and present the views of just five people as the view of the whole Indian Jewish diaspora. I request the press to visit more populated Jewish communities like the ones in Thana, Mumbai, Ahmadabad, also although smaller in numbers Calcutta and Cochin. The Press will then be able to give a better picture of the Indian Jews. The first basic difference is the Synagogue in Delhi is the only one in India where men and women sit together. Mr. Malakar was given a job as the caretaker of this synagogue 30 years back and was allowed to stay in the place meant for bodies to be prepared for burial as temporary accommodation. Over the years as the small community either moved out or passed away he gradually controlled the Synagogue he became the secretary and soon made his wife the treasurer. General Jacob was forced to take up the post of President but as his profile suggested he is too busy to look at the matters of the synagogue he only visits during Yom Kippur or one odd other time but this suits the control of Mr. Malakar who is nowhere near a Rabbi although he can read all the prayers in Hebrew he has never studied torah in any yashiva. He has a cunning daughter so he is preparing to hand over the reins of the synagogue to her by saying she will be the first woman Rabbi. The community in Delhi is not more than 5 families today. Ms. Elizabeth is a spinster, also a governing members for tens of years like him with out any elections no community meetings and most of all no account of all the money received. Malakar lives on the premises of the Synagogue and was caught many times in the past for taking donations from visiting tourists and not putting it in the synagogue account, but as he refused to leave the synagogue and laws in India virtually give ownership rights to the occupant of the premises he survived. All rich western Jewish tourists visit the Synagogue as Delhi is the capital and like press they visit this Synagogue and give a lot of donations in cash without any receipt although his wife is the treasurer and he receipt book is printed by him and issued by him you be the judge. Most of the Embassy staff have also stopped going to the synagogue as he does prayers as per his vim’s and fancy they now have the option of the Chabad house barukh Hashem. He also did not allow the Chabad house to make a mikway in the Synagogue which has a lot of unused land as he does not like any interference in his personal Business i.e Delhi Synagogue Pvt. Ltd. But that did not stop them, they are now building on in a rented place God Bless them. Though the rents the annex hall of the synagogue to store musical instruments to a non Jewish organization. This synagogue because of its location has the press coming to him to write the view of the whole 80,000 Indian Jewish Community. Has the advantage of receiving huge donation from rich Jewish tourists. Has the advantage to get invited to all functions organized by the government. I hope and request the press to please visit other synagogue in India before writing about Indian

    Jews and Tourists to pay by cheque to the synagogue account if not buy themselves what they want the synagogue to have. Request the Embassy Staff to take active part in the functioning of the synagogue it is also your Jewish duty not diplomatic. Indian Concerned Jew
    Indian Jew , Canada

  • Rishona

    @Indian Jew – your concerns may be valid & you seem to be an advocate of the Indian Jewish community. But are you aware of the laws of lashon hara?