India is a country of extreme contrasts and contradictions. One of the first things our local Indian guide told us was “anything you say about India, the opposite is also true!” We found this to be the case throughout our two week journey in India. My husband John Crouch and I joined the Prime Minister’s Council & King David Society Mission to India this past March. This was a mission trip with Jewish Federations of North America.
The mission was attended by 200 participants from 27 communities in both Canada and the U.S. While we were the only two people representing Milwaukee, we were graciously welcomed by other larger delegations where we made many new friends and connected with our wonderful friends from JFNA and National Women’s Philanthropy.
During our time in India, we learned about the local culture, the Jews of India, the work of our overseas partners: the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and World ORT, and everything was put into perspective by our three scholars and rabbis who joined us throughout our time there.
We started the pre-mission trip in Cochin, in the southern part of India. The Cochin Jews are considered to be the oldest, continuously living Jewish community in the world. They descended from Judean Jewish traders who began to settle the Indian coast some 2,500 years ago. In addition, there are two other groups of Jews living in India. As a result of India gaining Independence from Great Britain in 1947, the majority of Jews have made aliyah to Israel and today there are approximately 5,000 Jews left out of a population of over 1.3 billion in India. There are 18 synagogues, eight are in Mumbai and few are truly active.
There are all different Jewish affiliations represented in India: Reform, Zionist Association, B’nai B’rith, Chabad and several other associations. We learned that anti-Semitism doesn’t really exist in India and in fact there is not a word for anti-Semitism in Hindi.
While traveling throughout the country from Cochin, to Jaipur, to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is, to New Delhi and ending in Mumbai, we experienced the heavily populated and chaotic streets while riding in rickshaws, tuk-tuks or buses. We visited the fragrant, picturesque fish market, flower market and fruit and vegetable market in the early dawn in Mumbai. We met with the U. S. Ambassador at his residence in the American Embassy where we enjoyed a cocktail reception. We met separately with the Indian and Israeli ambassadors. We bore witness to the horrific attack on the Chabad House in 2008 and lit candles for the victims. We dined at the City Palace in Jaipur, home to the Royal Family of India. We stayed overnight in the beautiful Taj Mahal and Rambagh palaces.
We visited the Gabriel Project Mumbai which works to move impoverished children out of the slums. We saw the work that our partner JDC and others are doing to bring peace, love and a better life to this part of the world.
This mission was truly a trip of a lifetime! Experiencing the beauty, color and kindness of the Indian culture, while at the same time witnessing the depth of poverty and overcrowding of the streets, slums and cities.
We experienced firsthand that WE help ALL those in need, not because they are Jews, we help them because WE are Jews.