The Temple Sinai Music Committee is pleased to present our annual Shabbat Shira (Sabbath of Song). This year's special event features author, singer and educator Rahel Musleah.
This unique look at the music and culture of Jewish India begins on Friday, January 31 at 6:30 PM, as Rahel leads the music of the liturgy and teaches us about her Jewish Indian roots. The evening continues with a delicious Indian Shabbat dinner. RSVP for dinner at http://shabbatshiradinner.eventbrite.com. On the morning of Saturday, February 1, Rahel will focus on the Torah ritual and her traditional style of chanting Torah and Haftarah, at the 10:30 AM Kehillat Shabbat Service.
Music Committee Co-Chair Myra Weinberg was able to talk with Rahel via email about her music and background:
You say in one of your articles that the Jewish community in Calcutta numbers about 35. Is that still the case? How large is the Jewish community in the rest of India?It's even less today. Only about 30. There are about 5,000 Jews in all of India today, mostly in the Mumbai area.
How is the music that accompanies an Indian Jewish service unique? Are there special melodies and instruments that are used? How is the Torah chant different?We do not use instruments in the service, since almost all synagogues in India follow Orthodox custom. The music originated in Baghdad and Syria, so it's Middle Eastern, more of a chant. We also have distinctive songs for Shabbat and holidays, some of which I have recorded on my CD, "Jewish Rhythms from Baghdad to India". There I have used instrumental accompaniment, since at non-synagogue occasions like wedding celebrations instruments were permitted. As far as the Torah chant, please come and hear it for yourself!
Food is always a big part of Jewish culture. What would a typical Shabbat dinner be in Calcutta?Delicious! Roast chicken with Indian spices; marag (chicken soup); pilau (rice); aloomakalas, whole round potatoes that are crisp on the outside and white and fluffy inside; bhajee (vegetable curry); a tomato and cilantro chutney; and hulbah (a green sauce made from cilantro and soaked fenugreek seeds). For dessert we would have an array of tropical fruits like papayas and mangoes.
You wrote a wonderful article about a traditional Indian Rosh Hashanah celebration. Could you tell us what some of the highlights of the holiday are for you?We have a mini-seder with different types of fruits and vegetables that mirror our wishes for the new year. It's a wonderful way to start the year. We stuff plump Medjool dates with walnut halves (it cuts the sweetness); separate pomegranate seeds that represent the mitzvot we hope will fill our year (yes, there are about 613...give or take a few...I have counted!); prepare an apple preserve spiked with whole cloves, and more. We also recite a series of biblical verses that have mystical significance.
Your family left India to move to Philadelphia when you were very young. Do you remember what it was like trying to fit into Jewish life in a new country?How could I forget? It was quite a culture shock. Nobody had ever heard of a Jew from India. I remember people saying to me, "What, you don't speak 'Jewish [meaning Yiddish]?' Then how can you be Jewish?"
How often have you gone back to India?I've been back twice and hope to visit again with my children. I went once with my parents and it was fascinating to see it through their eyes and memories.
What traditions from Calcutta have you made sure you pass down to your own children?My children were born in the U.S. Someone once asked my daughter Shira that question when she was a teenager. I was imagining her answer to myself, when she said, 'Everything we do is based in the Calcutta traditions!" Obviously it's not possible to immerse ourselves in an Indian environment, but we do a lot, from cooking to chanting the Torah in our trope and passing down holiday rituals.
For more about Rahel, visit her website, www.rahelsjewishindia.com, and "like" her on Facebook!
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