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Jewish History Tour India

India has a legacy of three distinct ancient Jewish groups: the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews, also called the Malabar Jews, and the White Jews from Europe. Each group practiced important elements of Judaism and had active synagogues. The Sephardic rites predominate among Indian Jews. More recent Jewish immigration to India includes the Baghdadi Jews, Bnei Menashe, and Bene Ephraim.
Jewish merchants from Europe traveled to India in the medieval period for purposes of trade, but it is not clear whether they formed permanent settlements in south Asia. Our first reliable evidence of Jews living in India comes from the early 11th century. It is certain that the first Jewish settlements were centered along the western coast. Abraham ibn Daud's 12th century reference to Jews of India is unfortunately vague and we do not have further references to Indian Jews until several centuries later.

Migrations in the 16th and 17th centuries created important settlements of Jews from Persia, Afghanistan and Characin (Central Asia) in northern India and Kashmir. By the late 18th century, Bombay became the largest Jewish community in India. Bene Israel Jews lived in Bombay, as did Iraqi and Persian Jews.

 
 
Bene Israel Jews
The Bene Israel ("Sons of Israel") lived primarily in the cities of Bombay (now Mumbai), Pune, Karachi (now in Pakistan), and Ahmadabad. The native language of the Bene Israel was Judeo-Marathi. They arrived in India nearly 2,100 years ago after a shipwreck stranded seven Jewish families from Judea at Navagaon near Alibag, just south of Mumbai. The Bene Israel claim to be descended from Jews who escaped persecution in the Galilee in the 2nd century B.C.E. The Bene Israel resembled the non-Jewish Maratha people in appearance and customs, which indicates intermarriage between Jews and Indians.

The Bene Israel, however, maintained the practices of Jewish dietary laws, circumcision, and observation of Sabbath as a day of rest. The Bene Israel say their ancestors were oil pressers in the Galilee and earned the nickname "Saturday oil-pressers" because they abstained from work on Saturday, which is the Jewish Shabbat, a day of rest. In the 18th century, they were "discovered" by traders from Baghdad. At that time, the Bene Israel were practicing just a few outward forms of Judaism (which is how they were recognized), but had no scholars of their own. Teachers from Baghdad and Cochin taught them mainstream Judaism in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 1830s, there was an estimated 6,000 Bene Israeli Jews living in India, and nearly 10,000 at the turn of the century. At their peak in 1948, the Bene Israel numbered 20,000. Since then, most of the Bene Israel Jews have migrated to Israel, and under 5,000 remain today. In 1964, the Rabbinate of Israel declared that the Bene Israel are "full Jews in every respect." The Bene Israel community claimed to be descendents of the Kohanim, the ancient Israelite priests, which claims descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses. In 2002, a DNA test confimed that the Bene Israel share the same heredity as the Kohanim.

 
 
Jews of Cochin
The first Jews to come to India were the Jews in Cochin in southern India (today, its the port city of Kochi) were the so-called "Black Jews," who traditionally spoke the Judeo-Malayalam tongue, native to the state of Kerala. Some say that these "Black Jews" settled in the Malabar coast during the times of King Solomon of Israel, and after the Kingdom of Israel split into two. The Pardesi Jews, also called the "White Jews" settled later, coming to India from western European nations such as Holland and Spain, and spoke the ancient Sephardic language of Ladino. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews starting in the 15th century was Goa, but this settlement eventually disappeared. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin had an influx of Jewish settlers from the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.

The Jews of Cochin traditionally say that they came to Cranganore (an ancient port near Cochin in south-west India) after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighboring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Moors, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode) attacked the Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they were tampering with the pepper trade. Most Jews fled to Cochin and went under the protection of the Hindu Raja there. He granted them a site for their own town that later acquired the name "Jew Town" (by which it is still known). Unfortunately for the Jews of Cochin, the Portuguese occupied Cochin in this same period and indulged in persecution of the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The Dutch Protestants were tolerant, and the Jews prospered. In 1795, Cochin passed into the British sphere of influence. In the 19th century, Cochin Jews lived in the towns of Cochin, Ernakulam, Aluva, and North Paravur. Most of Cochin's Jews have emigrated (principally to Israel), intermarried, or converted, and now there are believed to be only 13 elderly Indian-born Jews, from seven families, still living in Kochi. There are currently 53 practicing Cochin Jews in Kerala, along with three synagogues. The Pardesi Synagogue in Kochi, built in 1568, is the only one still open and is a protected heritage site. Many fear that the Jews of Cochin will soon wither away.

 
 
India has a legacy of three distinct ancient Jewish groups: the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews, also called the Malabar Jews, and the White Jews from Europe. Each group practiced important elements of Judaism and had active synagogues. The Sephardic rites predominate among Indian Jews. More recent Jewish immigration to India includes the Baghdadi Jews, Bnei Menashe, and Bene Ephraim.

Jewish merchants from Europe traveled to India in the medieval period for purposes of trade, but it is not clear whether they formed permanent settlements in south Asia. Our first reliable evidence of Jews living in India comes from the early 11th century. It is certain that the first Jewish settlements were centered along the western coast. Abraham ibn Daud's 12th century reference to Jews of India is unfortunately vague and we do not have further references to Indian Jews until several centuries later. Migrations in the 16th and 17th centuries created important settlements of Jews from Persia, Afghanistan and Characin (Central Asia) in northern India and Kashmir. By the late 18th century, Bombay became the largest Jewish community in India. Bene Israel Jews lived in Bombay, as did Iraqi and Persian Jews.


 
 

Day 01 : Arrive Mumbai
STI representative will meet you and transfer you to the hotel. Later optional visit to the Knesseth Eliahod Synagogue (also known as Fort Jewish Synagogue), established in 1884 by Mr. Jacob Sasson in memory of his father. Overnight stay at Hotel.
 
 

Day 02 : Mumbai
Morning leave for the sightseeing tour of Bombay city visiting Gateway of India, Marine Drive, Victoria Terminus (Shivaji Terminus), Flora Fountain, Crawford Market Nehru Planetarium, Kamala Nehru Park, Hanging Gardens, National Gallery of Modern Art, Chowpatty Beach etc. Later visit Gate of Mercy Synagogue or Juni Masjid established 1796. The street on which the Synagogue stands was named Samaji Street in His Honor and is at present known as Samuel street. The Synagogue celebrated its centenary in the year 1896 and then renamed Shaar-Ha-Rahamim. Overnight in hotel.

 
 
jewish historical tour in india


Day 03 : Mumbai - Pune (train)

Morning transfer to the Railway-station to connect train 1007 Deccan Express dep. at 07:10 hrs arrive Pune at 11:10 hrs. Upon arrival transfer to the Hotel. Later city tour of Pune, now an important commercial city but once the capital of the Maratha and the Pehwas Empires. Overnight at hotel.Overnight: In Hotel


 
 
Day 04 : Pune - Ahmedabad (train)
Morning visit Ohel David Synagogue, established in 1867, built by the Sasoon family. Also visit Succath Shelmo Synagogue established in 1921, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1919. Later transfer to the Railway-station to connect train # 1050, Ahmedabad Exp, dep at 1950 hrs. Overnight on board.
 
 
Day 05 : Ahmedabad
Arrive at 0745 hrs. Upon arrival transfer to the hotel. Free time to explore the city by your own. Overnight at Hotel.
 
 
Day 06 : Ahmedabad
Morning city tour of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Ahmed Shah. By the year 1600 AD Ahmedabad was considered to be the finest city in India until Delhi arose. Later visit Magen Abraham Synagogue established in 1933 by Dr. Solomon. Overnight in Hotel.
 
 
Day 07 : Ahmedabad - Delhi
Morning transfer to the Airport to connect flight 9W 702 dep. at 08:10 hrs arrive Delhi at 09:35 hrs. Upon arrival transfer to the Hotel. Rest of the day free to enjoy the facilities available at the luxury hotel or shopping. Overnight in hotel.
 
 
Day 08 : Delhi
Morning leave for the tour of Old and New Delhi. Afternoon visit the Judah Hyam Hall established in 1956 in response to the small Delhi Jewish Community who used to hold prayers in their residents. Also prayers for the high holidays were held in the house of Mr. Baruch B. Benjamin, the First President of the Jewish Welfare Association, New Delhi. The hall also serves as a center for Jewish and interfaith studies. Overnight in hotel.

 
 
Day 09 : Delhi - Agra
Morning drive to Agra (203 kms / 4 hrs). Upon arrival transfer to the Hotel. Later visit Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, in 1632. Later proceed to Agra Fort, built by the great Emperor Akbar in 1565 A.D. Overnight in Hotel.

 
 
Day 10 : Agra - Delhi - Kolkata
Morning drive back to Delhi. Upon arrival transfer to the Airport to connect flight IC 264 dep. at 17:00 hrs arrive Calcutta at 18:55 hrs. Upon arrival transfer to the Hotel. Overnight stay at Hotel.
 
 
Day 11 : Kolkata
Morning visit Neveh Shalome Synagogue established in 1825, the first Synagogue in Calcutta and rebuilt in 1911. Also visit Magen David Synagogue, built by Mr. Elias David Joseph Esra in memory of his father, Mr. David Joseph Ezra who died in 1882. This is the largest Synagogue in the east. Overnight in hotel.
 
 
Day 12 : Kolkata - Chennai
Morning leave for the tour of Calcutta. Visit the Eden Gardens, New Secretariat, High Court, Jain Temple, Chowringhee Museum, Mother Theresa's Convent, New Market, Victoria Memorial and the Race Course. Evening transfer to the Airport to connect flight IC 765 dep. at 18:10 hrs arrive Chennai at 20:15 hrs. Upon arrival transfer to the Hotel. Overnight in Hotel.
 
 
Day 13 : Chennai - Overnight train to Chennai
Morning leave for the city tour of Chennai visiting Fort St. George and St. Mary's Church built by the British East India Company in 1653. A Church within the Fort was consecrated in 1680. Visit also the High Court, the San Thome Cathedral and the Marina Beach. Evening transfer to railway station to connect train #2623 Trivandrum mail dep. 20:00 hrs. Overnight on board.
 
 
Day 14 : Chennai - overnight train to Cochin
Arrive Cochin at 06:35 hrs. Later visit Jew Town and the Pardesi Synagogue. This Synagogue was built by Samuel Castiel, David Belila, Ephrahim Sala and Joseph Levi. It stands on the grounds of the Maharaja of Cochin's residence. It is the first Synagogue which came into existence in the commonwealth and is one of the oldest in the world. Overnight in hotel.
 
 
Day 15 : Cochin /Out
Morning city tour of Cochin visiting the Cochin Harbour and Mattancherry Fishing Nets. Evening transfer to Airport to connect flight for onward destination.
 
 
 
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