Internet connection problems on Motzai Shabbat prevented me from updating everyone on Friday and Shabbat happenings on our adventure. Now, Sunday morning of Day 11, I have 2 minutes until the bus leaves! Suffice it to say, we continue to have amazing experiences on our trip- a ride on the backwaters of Cochin on Friday plus an unreal Shabbat experience in a shul that we made the first minyan in since 1972. Our new friends from Erode came to be with us for Shabbat and once again we were inspired by their sincerity and earnestness. Last night we had a farewell Melave Malka since Ari and Ari will not be with us today and we are off for some more synagogue touring today.We Will try to give a more complete update later tonight. Have a Shavua Tov wherever you may be!
We just completed our last full day of touring in Cochin and surrounding areas. Tomorrow we all fly to our different destinations after a morning of shopping for all those gifts our family, friends, and co-workers are expecting!
But first, the blog continues. I will try to fill in some of the blanks from Friday and on. We left early for a 2 hour bus ride through the Indian state of Karela towards the backwaters. Backwaters are very calm and do not move at all so islands were built there for fishing and other pursuits. We arrived at the dock where we saw a big surprise waiting for us- a houseboat with all the amenities (well, at least the Indian ones!) Four bedrooms and furniture overlooking the front of the boat- it was a nice setting for taking pictures and just enjoying the view as we cruised around the backwaters. Ari Z. caught a nap as well! After returning to land and then the hotel, we started getting ready for Shabbos with a lot of anticipation for what was to come.
We were aware of two big happenings for Shabbat. First of all, the shul we were going to daven in around 10 minutes from the hotel had not been used for any Tefilah since 1972! In truth, the main reason the shul became obsolete was for good reason– just about all of the Cochin Jews made Aliyah over the years since 1948 and they established homes in different parts of Aretz- for example, the Moshav called Nevatim in the Negev is comprised of Cochini Jews. However, the remaining few Jews here, especially the son of one of the Gabbaim, Babu, were so excited to be part of the rebirth of his old shul, even if it was only for a weekend.
The second event was the arrival of some of the members of the Zion Center community from Erode for Shabbat. This had been planned many weeks ago and when the members of Sam & Anne’s community heard about this, they travelled several hours to Cochin from Erode and helped clean up the shul for our visit. (You can watch this on a YouTube video posted on the OU Israel website.) When we arrived in the shul, we entered a plant store and had to walk through an aquarium store which opened up into the main sanctuary!
I cannot describe to you the reverence the Zion Center members had when they entered the shul on Friday night. They brought their own photocopied siddurim which were written in their native language and sang along with Lecha Dodi and other tunes our chazzan extraordinaire, Yaakov Feder, sang throughout the evening. For most of them, it was their first real Shabbat experience with Jewish people and you could see in their eyes how much it meant to them.
The look on Babu’s face as he witnessed this historic minyan was worth it all. He never thought this would happen again in his lifetime after many thwarted attempts to make Aliyah. He looks upon himself as the guardian of the shul and the opportunity to conduct regular Shabbat Tefillot there was an unreal dream that our group helped make a reality.
We walked back to the hotel for the Seudah. We were also lucky to have Rabbi Yishai Tzur and his wife and children with us for Shabbat in the hotel. After a great meal full of zmiros and divrei Torah, we split up into 2 groups- one in English where Sam described his journey with his community and one in Hebrew with Rav Yishai which was a discussion of his work with the Zion Center and where he feels it might be leading. This blog cannot do justice to either presentation (I attended the one with Rav Yishai) but let me make two comments: one is that you should remember the name Yishai Tzur because he is a very special person who will make his mark in some way in our country of Israel and the second is that whatever you feel about whether or not these people will (or should) convert to Judaism, you cannot but feel humbled at the respect they showed us and the high regard they had for us. The way they acted in shul and the love they showered on us is such a responsibility on us to live up to the moniker of being G-d’s people. I know my davening was affected by it and I feel blessed for having interacted in a small way with these fine people.
Day 10 (Shabbat morning) began with Tfilla at the shul with Babu holding a Torah for the first time in 44 years (all the Torahs had made aliyah with the members of the shul); he told me today it was the first time his wife had ever seen him hold a Torah! We returned to the hotel to enjoy the famous Ari G. chicken cholent (which I had 2 portions of!!) and a well deserved Shabbos rest. We returned for our last Tfilla in the shul for Mincha and were once again impressed with Ari G.’s accomplishments as he told us the story of his discovery of the snail that produces Tchelet.
After Havdalah, some of our group hit the stores that were still open in the area while others freshened up for our Grand Gala Farewell DInner. Ari and Ari were off early Sunday morning to a remote Indian location to meet several people who believed they were descendants of the Ephraim, son of Yosef and were part of the Ten Lost Tribes. The 2 adventurers would be spending app. 24 hours seeing their community andf interviewing them to see if there was validity to their claim. They will meet up with the Israel contigent and their wives Monday evening. Since they and several other tour members were leaving, we had the Melave Malka and Ralphy acknowledged all the participants and presented them with mementos of our trip.
Day 11- We headed out early this morning to see several old Indian synagogues where we saw again that all the shuls in this area are almost exact replicas of each other. We travelled by boat and were entertained by some native dancers who realized quickly that you can’t keep a Jewish guy from joining in a dance session!! Let’s just say the pictures speak for themselves!! It was a nice relaxing day which was most welcome after 10 days of sprinting across the country!!
We went back to Babu’s shul for Mincha where we were able to photograph our historic visit and we headed for shopping and supper.
Since we leave tomorrow, I won’t have a chance to update again before we get home. I hope you enjoyed this blog and please feel free to comment about any reaction you have to our journey.
All the best from Cochin and I can’t wait to get home to Jerusalem!!.