Tufts Hillel – India – May/June 2010

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Reflections on a “Wonderful Whirlwind”

Tufts Hillel wrapped up their experience in India this week. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg shared some final reflections.

Our incredible trip to India has at last come to a close! It was a wonderful whirlwind of 10 days, utterly successful on every level.

Tufts Hillel in front of the Gate of India

Our ultimate goal was to forge a deep connection between Tufts students and the Bene Israel community, and I daresay that we achieved that in spades. After beginning to get to know Jewish life in Mumbai (Bombay), Alibag, and a number of other fishing villages in the Konkan region, we traveled to a camp/resort in Karjat, where we spent three long, glorious days on retreat with JYP (the Jewish Youth Pioneers; participants at the retreat aged 15-26, with most aged 19-21). During ropes courses, rock climbing, zip-lining, structured discussions and text studies, meals and card games, singing together, creating a joint Indian-American Kabbalat Service out in the grass, impromptu dance parties and hanging out in the pool, the two groups fell in love with one another. We left camp on Sunday morning, after an extended goodbye, visited another synagogue community in the area, spent the afternoon sharing stories and songs with the elders of the Bayiti elder home and painting a gorgeous seascape mural on the facility’s wall, and had dinner with the vibrant Jewish community of Thane, a Mumbai suburb. Monday included a little souvenir shopping in downtown Mumbai, a long feast of a lunch, and dinner and celebration back at the Jewish Community Center, where goodbyes and tributes were made to the JYP, the many people we had gotten to know along the way, and a few friends. And, of course, we ended our night at the JCC with more dancing.

It was a wonderful trip, and from my conversations with our students, it certainly had an impact on the way they think about world Jewry, their own Jewish identity, their place in the world generally, their values and a number of other crucially big issues. The success of the trip was due in large part to the extraordinary nature of these students; each of them displayed an exceptional willingness to not only engage wholeheartedly in potentially uncomfortable situations, but to engage the questions and ideas that emerged from those situations on the deepest, most sensitive level. It was an honor to be with them as they each underwent important, potentially transformative processes with such bravery and openheartedness.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to continue working with your sons and daughters this autumn; we’ll be creating some post-trip projects focused on educating the Jewish community about and fundraising for the Bene Israel community with whom we now have such an important connection.

I hope you are all well and having a wonderful summer.

Best wishes,
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
Tufts Hillel

Previous posts from Tufts: At the JYP Camp! | Namaste from Alibag! | Waking up in Alibag | Reflecting on Day 1 | Greetings from Mumbai! | Nine Days til India! | An Open Letter to The Jewish Community of India | Supporting the Jewish Community of India with Cookies!

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Tufts Hillel: At the JYP Camp

So much has happened since our last post, it’s hard to figure out where to start. We arrived at the JYP (Jewish Youth Pioneers) camp on Thursday after an early departure from the shores of Alibag. The last four days have been filled with great food, engaging conversations, dance parties, and the ever-important filtered water.

We quickly bonded with the 30 JYP members by rooming with them and having discussions on personal values and shared Jewish experiences. However, the true friendships were built on games of Bananagrams and Taki while fighting off the bugs under the fans.

Shabbat provided the time and space for the two groups to come together in entirely new ways. After rock climbing, zip-lining and hiking to a gorgeous Buddhist temple under the searing sun, 50 squeaky clean smiling faces circled up under the fading light for a Friday night service. (Squeaky clean might be a bit of an exaggeration because as soon as you step out of the shower you start sweating again.)

The service was constructed by JYP and Tufts students to blend Bene Israel traditions with Tufts Ashkenazi traditions. This process, for me, was one of the best parts of the trip—a true learning experience for everyone involved. We started the first few verses of L’cha Dodi with an American melody and finished with a Bene Israel melody. We recited the Sh’ma sitting down and learned to make a shin with our hands on our foreheads while speaking the words that sustained the Jewish community here for thousands of years. We taught them Shalom Rav and they showed us their tradition of saying blessings over dates and bananas. We sang Shalom Alechem together using a shared melody before joining in the blessing over the wine.

While waiting for dinner, the first of many verses of “Gesher Tsar Meod” broke out. Singing together first in Hebrew and then English, the JYP then taught us the verses in Hindi. This led into one of our many dance parties this week. People spun about the room, singing the Hora and David Melech—lifting Dana into the air to celebrate her birthday.

When the power went out and the room went black, everyone started singing “Gesher Tsar Meod” in whichever language they chose.  (“The whole world is a very narrow bridge/ and I say the most important part/ is not to be afraid.”) The lights returned and we began the ‘motzi and dinner, picking up different Bene Israel traditions along the way.

Free time at the camp was spent swimming in the pool to escape the heat or playing soccer and cricket. Havdallah led into a singing session and dinner was followed by a crazy dance party by the pool. It turns out that despite the cultural differences between the two groups, we’re still just a bunch of crazy teenagers, having a good time.

As we load our stuff back onto the bus and say “so long” to our new friends (we’ll see many again before the trip is up), I’m reminded by Ariel that there is no graceful way to eat a mango on a moving bus.

~ Eric Siegel

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Namaste from Alibag!

There are currently 20 students from Tufts University Hillel serving in Mumbai, India with JDC Short-Term Service!

We are writing this as we travel from Alibag to Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP) camp in Karjat. Yesterday, after a busy day exploring the Konkan villages and meeting Jewish community members, we had some time on the beach. As the sun set over the water, we had the opportunity to ride horse carriages across the beach.

Elijah, JDC-India country manager, negotiated a great price of 20 rupees (a little less than 50 cents) for each of us to ride the horses. Twelve of us piled on to two rickety carts led by the horses. As the horses galloped across the beach, we got to see typical Indian families enjoying their vacations – women bathing in saris, children eating mango ice cream pops and newly wed couples taking romantic strolls on the shore. When we were nearing the end of our loop, the two horse drivers decided to have a race. The horses started to pull the carts at record speeds. It felt as if we could have fallen off of the cart at any second. While some of us felt as if our lives passed before eyes at least we knew if these were our last moments they would be spent on the beautiful Alibag coast.

Luckily, we all survived and we have photos to prove it!

We can’t wait to spend the next few days getting to know our JYP peers at camp. We will write after Shabbat to tell you all about what we know will prove to be an amazing experience.

~ Emma and Julie

Previous posts from Tufts: Waking up in Alibag | Reflecting on Day 1 | Greetings from Mumbai! | Nine Days til India! | An Open Letter to The Jewish Community of India | Supporting the Jewish Community of India with Cookies!

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Waking up in Alibag

Waking up in Alibag, we indulged in a traditional Indian breakfast at the hotel. We then set out on our bus to the Navgaon Cemetery. Seeing the age of the different tombstones was amazing. The oldest marked date was 1774, but many unmarked graves predate even that one. After the cemetery, we visited my highlight of the morning, David. He is 80 years old and still presses oil, though he now uses an electrical press. He entertained a few of us with stories of how his life and the times have changed. He described a few traditions and even threatened us with a slingshot if we misbehaved!

After a relaxing lunch and group discussion, we headed off to see two different Jewish families whom JDC helps. We met with  two adults who the JDC helped through school and college. One even moved to Israel and is now moving back to India, which his mother is very happy about. Later in the day we learned about the cash assistance program and we toured the hospital where JDC holds a free clinic on the first Sunday of the month for Jews.

When we arrived back at the hotel we took advantage of our primetime location by enjoying the gorgeous sunset. After which, we all walked along the beach and half of us hopped on a horse drawn carriage for a run on the beach. Now after an event filled day we all await dinner. More pics to come!

Previous posts from Tufts: Reflecting on Day 1 | Greetings from Mumbai! | Nine Days til India! | An Open Letter to The Jewish Community of India | Supporting the Jewish Community of India with Cookies!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Reflecting on Day 1 in Mumbai (with pictures!)

There are currently 20 students from Tufts University Hillel serving in Mumbai, India with JDC Short-Term Service!

At 11:30 this morning, the adventure started. As soon as the plane doors opened, the heat and smells rushed in. After making our way through customs and meeting up with Gila, our trip leader from JDC New York, and Elijah, a representative from JDC-India, we got on a bus and started off toward our hotel. The entire ride, we all sat staring out the windows, wide-eyed and sweating, trying to soak in everything: the liberal honking habits of the rickshaws, the Hindi billboard, the saris, and the slums interspersed with fancy malls. It was a lot to take in, but the excitement of actually being here kept us trying our best.

Our afternoon on the first day was spent exploring a few Jewish sites around the city. First stop was a tour of the Magen David synagogue, which was a brilliant blue, followed by a stop at the Tifereth Israel synagogue. In both places, we saw gorgeous Torah scrolls, listened to stories from members of the Jewish Youth Pioneers, and heard about some Indians Jews moving to Israel.

Our final stop of the day was the Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center, where we met up with more members of the JYP. It was so exciting to have time to just talk and eat with Indian Jews. After dinner, we enjoyed a mini dance party, which started with Bollywood dancing and evolved into a free for all. We had no idea what the songs were, but everyone had fun groovin’ to the beat, and I think we all have opinions on who had the best moves.

Between the heat, jetlag, and a busy day, we were all exhausted. At the final group circle of the day, we all agreed that the humidity was going to be a challenge, but simply being here is so invigorating, we can’t wait to keep exploring!

Previous posts from Tufts: Greetings from Mumbai! | Nine Days til India! | An Open Letter to The Jewish Community of India | Supporting the Jewish Community of India with Cookies!

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Greetings from Mumbai!

There are currently 20 students from Tufts University Hillel serving in Mumbai, India with JDC Short-Term Service!

Previous posts from Tufts: Nine Days til India! | An Open Letter to The Jewish Community of India | Supporting the Jewish Community of India with Cookies!

Greetings from Mumbai! We’ve had a busy but wonderful first day here.

The flights went smoothly and uneventfully, and we were picked up at the Mumbai airport by the folks from JDC India.

After lunch and a chance to rest and freshen up, we toured a couple of the synagogues in the area and had a peek at the Dobi Ghats (central laundry–trust me, it’s a trip) before heading over to the Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center.

We’ve had some icebreakers and get-to-know-you games with the Jewish Youth Pioneers (young Indians in their late teens and early 20s), had dinner, and are about to have a Bollywood dance lesson before heading back to the hotel to crash.

Tomorrow includes a little more touring of Mumbai and heading off for Alibag, the first of a number of villages that we’ll visit on the trip.

We’ll write again as Internet allows! In the meantime, know that we are safe, well-fed, happy and currently dancing up a storm! More posts and pictures to come.

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Tufts University Hillel: Nine Days til India!

On May 30, 20 students from Tufts University Hillel will travel to Mumbai, India with JDC Short-Term Service!

Previous posts from Tufts: An Open Letter to The Jewish Community of India, Supporting the Jewish Community of India with Cookies!

Even though those of us going on the trip have had several orientations, worked on pre-trip projects together, and spent some time just getting to know each other, we’ve always has classes and other distractions- until now. Classes are over and we’re all home for a week. And with our full attention now on the summer, it’s really settling in that in 9 days we will be in Mumbai!

In the next week and a half, we’ll be seeing friends from home (and undoubtedly talking about the trip), finishing up pre-trip projects, and packing to head off to India!! It’s going to be interesting to see how our excitement at the novelty of being in India evolves into truly trying to understand the places we visit and making real connections with the people we meet. There are bound to be many cultural differences and tons of interesting similarities, and it will be great to see how those affect our understandings of India, Judaism, and our own outlooks on life.

From the people to the culture to the food, everything about this trip keeps making us more and more excited to start! Nine days…

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Hello, India!

An open letter to the Jewish Community of India!

Shalom! How are you? We are getting ready for our upcoming visit to your community. We are REALLY excited to meet with you and exchange cultures. We are sure that we both have a lot to learn from each other about the world, life and Judaism.

Right now, we are all studying for our upcoming final exams and finishing up our school year. We are students at Tufts University, in various years of study. We come from diverse Jewish backgrounds and from all over the United States.

We can’t believe how quickly the trip is arriving. We have been meeting together as a group and preparing for the journey. We are not sure what experiences await us, but we are thrilled to find out. We know that this will truly be a life-changing experience for all of us. Although we are thousands of miles apart, we may have more in common than some might imagine.

Shabbat Shalom!

~ Tufts University Hillel

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Tufts Hillel: Supporting the Jewish Community of India with cookies!

Hi Everyone!

As part of our preparation for our upcoming JDC Short-Term Service Program to India, we set up a cookie decorating booth at Tufts’s Aprilpalooza charity fair! The booth had posters about the STS program and showcased JDC, our upcoming service work and the Jewish community of India.  It was a lovely spring day and the booth proved quite popular – many cookies were decorated, much fun was had, and nearly $150 was raised for the Jewish Youth Pioneers in Mumbai!

See the pictures below from Aprilpalooza. More posts to come!