A Memorable Personal Experience While Traveling
Before my wife and I went to India for the first time last year, I arranged with a few Indian friends to meet their cousins in Mumbai after our tour had ended.
The first one was the cousin of Jewish Indian friends from Florida. We have met many of our friends’ extended families both when they have visited the United States and also several times in Melbourne, Australia where the bulk of his family lives.
One of his remaining cousins in India was Abraham Moses. He and his wife spent the day with us and showed us several Jewish sites which we never would have been able to visit on our own. We saw the synagogue where our friends in Florida were married 25 years ago. They also took us to a terrific seafood restaurant called Trishna. It was as if we were visiting long lost cousins.
Most people are completely unaware of the ancient Jewish population in India (once more than 50,000), primarily in the Mumbai area. Their numbers have decreased because of migration to Israel, the U.S., Canada and Australia. The neighborhoods which may have once had many Jews have been replaced with the Muslim and Hindu population. In the picture, you can see how the synagogues have been surrounded by ramshackle apartments. Newly-constructed high rise buildings are often directly adjacent to the older low-rise tenements.
Interestingly, the Jews in India have almost never experienced any anti-Semitic incidents as in other countries with a large Muslim majority. Despite a large outward migration, especially among the younger and more educated, the remaining Jews do not feel any prejudice. Historically there were many Jews in the military and the government, and the Bollywood film industry.
The next day we had arranged to meet the cousin of my other Indian friend from Florida, this time a Hindu first cousin, Bakin, who also happens to be a doctor.
He wanted to show us some out of the ordinary places in Mumbai, and so when he met us, he asked if there was anything that we had not yet seen. We told him that not only had we seen all of the usual tourist sites, but that the day before, we had a specialized Jewish tour.
Immediately, his ears perked up. He asked me the name of the Mumbai Jewish cousin. He explained that from when he was a small boy, his best friend growing up was a Jewish boy who had left India after studying medicine along with him and who had emigrated to Australia. They remained friendly and kept in touch almost every day.
It turned out that this Australian doctor lived in Tasmania where he practices psychiatry. His brother lives in Melbourne, and by coincidence was married to the sister of our Jewish Indian friend from Florida. We had met this sister during our travels there but not her husband.
Our new Mumbai doctor-friend was so excited of this amazing coincidence that he called his best friend in Tasmania while he was driving. According to his Hindu beliefs, this was a perfect example of karma. I explained to him that the same phenomenon is seen by Jewish people as an example of “bashert” or destiny.
Our second day of visiting “our Indian cousins” was also a tremendous success. He took us to an excellent vegetarian restaurant after we had visited a famous stepwell within the city of Mumbai.
We never would have believed that in India with a population of more than a billion people, there would have been such an incredible chance of this connection between two families from completely different backgrounds.
It just shows what a small world it really is!