India's Jewish “Now Generation"

Sam Amiel

All across the JDC map, we are preoccupied with grooming the next generation of Jewish leadership to assume their roles in Jewish communities in the coming years. And after a five-day workshop with a select group of Jewish 20-somethings from Mumbai last week, it's clear to me that India's time is now.

Smart, savvy, and sophisticated, Mumbai's young Jewish professionals are profoundly Jewish, and they have beautiful Jewish names like Nissim, Samson, Oshrit, and Judith.  Some attend synagogue regularly, others prefer Jewish dance, but each one of these promising leaders has been imbued with Jewish values and pride by the older generations in this small community of some 4,350 Jews.  

Here, as elsewhere, JDC's role over the years has been crucial, caring for the most vulnerable while harnessing the passion of these youngsters to help shape their Jewish destiny.  And we've done that with a smart blend of local JCC activities and by sending more than 30 teens since 2001 to the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation/JDC International Summer Camp in Szarvas, Hungary.

Take Nissim and his wife, Lovina, proud parents to 3-year-old Aviv and working professionals in Mumbai. They grew up in the Jewish Youth Pioneers, attend synagogue and JCC programs, and have many close relatives living in Israel. Both have been to Szarvas, and, as a result, they are currently engaged in developing a new program called "Family Matters," designed to serve busy young Jewish families like themselves across Mumbai.  

On this, my first trip to India, I had the privilege of working with a dynamic group of young leaders. I traveled with them from Mumbai to Kolkata in order to explore the heritage of that city’s once-great community of Baghdadi Jews and, through a hands-on retreat, their own Jewish identities. While meeting in the building of the former Jewish Girls School, the group pounded out the issues most relevant to them, such as intermarriage, observing Jewish laws, tolerance of others, and how to assume responsibility for their own community. We toured magnificent synagogues, cleaned a part of the Jewish cemetery, and helped to breathe life back into the Beth El synagogue and its remaining Torah in time for Shabbat morning prayer services.

In addition to bearing testimony to this once great community, the group and I used the visit to gain strength and motivation to ensure that Jewish life in India continues, and grows even stronger. I call my new found friends India's Jewish "Now Generation," and I have no doubt that they will succeed as they continue to explore how to live as proud Jews in India today.

Senior JDC Professional Sam Amiel coordinated a workshop in India last week for up-and-coming young Jewish leaders.



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