There is a very small community of Jews in India that celebrates Hanukkah every year around November or December, depending upon the Hebrew Calendar. Interestingly, they celebrate Hanukkah quite similar to how Hindus celebrate Diwali. Jews light up houses with bright candles, chant songs of peace and prosperity, distribute gifts and sweets, and wish each other well-being and lots of love.
Just like Diwali, Hanukkah is celebrated to commemorate the victory of good over evil. People light up candles on the menorah (a candelabrum with nine branches) followed by the chanting of hymns all evening in synagogues.
The Hanukkah story of Jews
Like Diwali, the story of Hanukkah is also quite legendary. When Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya after 14 long years defeating Ravana, people lit up their houses with diyas and lamps to mark the auspicious occasion.
Similarly, when Jews won their war against the Syrian Greek army and reclaimed their Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, the candles inside the temple burned for 9 consecutive days even though they were left with oil just enough to last one day. Hence, the tradition continues even today with Jews lighting 9 candles on the menorah from right to left to celebrate the miracle.
Witness Hanukkah in India
Although you may not believe it, Jews in India have been celebrating the festival of lights for over 2000 years now. Some of the places where a small community of Jews is still thriving are Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, and Kochi. Every year on Hanukkah, a huge menorah is lit in front of the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Book your Mumbai local rental for a safe commute.
Pune is home to 100-150 Jewish families and celebrations in the Synagogue is a lovely way to unite the community and keep the tradition alive. Succath Shelomo Synagogue in Rasta Peth and The Ohel David Synagogue on Moledina Road are places you should head to on Hanukkah. You can book a convenient taxi in Pune for a day and get to these places safely.
In Calcutta, there are only 18 Jews left in the community. Maghen David, Beth El synagogues, and Neve Shalome are synagogues where Hanukkah is still celebrated with much vigor and zeal. Hire a car on rent in Kolkata for an amazing Kolkata tour on Hanukkah.
Finally, there are only seven Paradesi Jews in Kochi. The Paradesi Synagogue is also known as Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattancherry Synagogue. The synagogue is the oldest active synagogue and is open to all visitors on Hanukkah. Kochi has many interesting beaches nearby. Book a taxi in Kochi and cover those places on your next trip.
Hanukkah dates 2020
Hanukkah 2020 will be celebrated from the 10th to the 18th of December.
The Jews and deep-fried food
No festival is ever celebrated without food. When the Jews won their war against the Greek army and gained control over their holy temple, it was not just the victory that moved them but also the miracle of the oil that stayed with them for years to come. Hence, the theme for Hanukkah surrounds deep-fried food.
Here are a few dishes you must try this year on Hanukkah.
Sufganiyot roughly translates to doughnuts in English. This deep-fried specialty is sweet and is also filled with jelly. You can find a variety of these and they are sold in bakeries especially around the holiday season.
Sfenj is a lot like Sufganiyot. However, instead of the filling, it is sprinkled with powdered sugar and is equally delicious to devour.
3. Pollo Frito
Pollo Frito is simply deep-fried chicken and can be easily made at home. All you need is flour and spices. And if you are too lazy to cook, go over to the nearest chicken joint and enjoy this delicacy with friends and family.
4. Kandha Bhaji
Jews in Mumbai like to celebrate Hanukkah with an Indian touch. A very famous Indian Hanukkah dish is Kandha Bhaji. You need some onions, cilantro, and herbs, and this super easy recipe can be made in just under 30 minutes.
5. Sweet Rice
Rice cooked with ghee, cashews, saffron and a little bit of sweetness makes this dish a favorite among the Jews in India.
6. Vada Pav
A ball of potato sandwiched between two buns is served in keeping with the tradition of eating deep-fried food. Particularly famous as a Bombay street food, a healthier version can be easily cooked at home with chutneys and sauces to go with it.
Whether it is Diwali for Hindus, Hanukkah for the Jews, and Bandi Chhor for the Sikhs, these are all celebrated every year across the world to restore our faith in good, bravery, and fighting for what is right!
Have a happy Hanukkah, guys!