In India With JDC Entwine, Lighting Three Different Menorahs
To finish off the Chanukah season, Rabbi Josh Mikutis reflects on his JDC Entwine Insider Trip he led in Jewish India.
By Rabbi Josh Mikutis - Jewish Learning Designer, JDC Entwine | December 27, 2022
Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.
We weaved our way through the crowds of Mumbai and entered one of the most famous sites of the city: the Gates of India. Though it was financed by the Sassoon family, the Gates of India are not generally understood as a Jewish site in India. There are synagogues throughout the city, but this is a place where people come for photographs that frame this mammoth construction against the glistening water. But tonight was different. Chabad of Mumbai, as is so often done in city squares throughout the world, were lighting the first candle of an enormous chanukiah. The Consul General of Israel entered to light the candle and offer the traditional blessing. The crowd — full of Jewish Indians, Israelis, tourists, and our group of HUC-JIR students on an Insider Trip through the Weitzman-JDC Fellowship — collectively offered an “amen.” That this all took place across the street from where the terrible terrorist attacks of 2008 transpired was lost on no one. The darkness that fell over this city that never sleeps saw light crack through.
Seated around a long table, I looked up at our guests from the Jewish Religious Union, the Reform community in Mumbai. They spoke about their almost 100-year history and plans for the future. Our group of Reform rabbinical, cantorial, and education students (with a few ordained Rabbis in the mix) sat in awe as we heard about a community so similar to and yet so different from so many of ours. We crowded around menorahs that had been brought in from the United States and Israel and sang the blessings together in a restaurant in Mumbai. The warmth of the candles reflected the joy of our group to be together with new friends as we exclaimed the ancient words that commemorated miracles. It felt both entirely ordinary and totally miraculous that we should all be together on this December night.
As our trip came to its close, we came together for a celebratory dinner. We snacked on versions of Mumbai street food and Crembo that the Israelis students had brought with them. One of our Israeli participants rose to light the candles — he used what he described as the “Israeli melody” and then followed it with the Moroccan version of a psalm associated with Chanukah. After, an American rabbinical student picked up a guitar and led us all in Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Light One Candle.” As one group — Indian, American, Ugandan, and Israeli — we shouted “Don’t let the light go out!” In this moment of togetherness, it felt certain that the light would indeed go on.
Rabbi Joshua Mikutis is the Director of Program Design and Jewish Learning at JDC Entwine and the Rabbinic Director of the Weitzman-JDC Fellowship at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.