For the Jewish holy month, a feast of food and design from their Mumbai outposts – Architectural Digest India

Posted By on October 4, 2021

Almost 2,200 years ago, seven Jewish families from Israel fled the tyranny of a Greek emperor and arrived at the Konkan Coast of Maharashtra. Some couldnt survive the distance from home, while others disappeared under capsized boats. Clueless and thrust into an alien country, they attempted to embrace the new life, devising a cultural vocabulary of their own.

From peaking at 40,000 in the early 1950s, the Jewish population of Mumbai is now down to a staggering 4,000. This community comprises theBene IsraeliJews ofKonkan, theBaghdadi JewsofIraq, and theCochin JewsofMalabar.

Abraham Yehuda, publisher, writer and business consultant, is one of the most prominent names in the Bene Israeli community of Mumbai. He tells Architectural Digest, The primary occupation of the Jews who settled along the Konkan Coast was agriculture and oil pressing. The Jews of Konkan migrated to Mumbai en masse only during the Raj when the British set up railway, ports and mills, as my own father worked as a gate inspector at the Bombay Port Trust.

However, it was during this intervening period between residing on the Konkan Coast and migrating to Mumbai that the unique culture of the Bene Israel community took shape.

The High Holidays in the Jewish calendar begin with the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah, and culminate with Simchat Torah, which ends on 29 September this year. The month is marked by fasting, introspection, atonement and reconciliation, and concludes with public reading of the Torahs in synagogues.

The High Holidays were when we interacted with the community, says Sifra Lentin, a Bombay History Fellow at the Gateway House. My mom would always buy new clothes for me and my siblings," she adds.

For Lentin, memories of celebrating the holidays as a child with her parents and their close-knit community are rather nostalgic. As a little girl, she would often visit the Magen Hassidim Synagogue in Mumbai's Agripada, where men would sit on the ground floor and women would occupy the gallery that overlooks the main sanctuary of the structure. As kids, I remember running up and down between the mens and womens gallery sections with the other children during the prayer service, she says.

The Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue, for the Baghdadi Jews, in Mumbai's Kalaghoda, boasts beautiful stained glass windows and carved arches

One of the most fascinating consequences of the Jews migrating from the Konkan Coast to Mumbai can be observed in their fooda curious marriage of Jewish and Maharashtrian cuisines. We essentially followed the Konkani way of cooking, says Yehuda, before adding that this gave rise to a coconut-based style of cooking curries, and groundnut oil became an essential part of Jewish cuisine too." Fowl and goat meat found space in their food as well.

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For the Jewish holy month, a feast of food and design from their Mumbai outposts - Architectural Digest India

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