When Barbara first started thinking about signing up for the OU Israel Adventure to India and was more than hinting that she’d like me to join her, I figured that I at least ought to take a gander at the itinerary. If nothing else, I would have an idea what it was I wasn’t interested in seeing and where it was I wasn’t interested in going. So I started making comments in the margins of the pages she gave me: very interested, somewhat interested, or not at all interested. The activity that got my lowest interest rating was going to a village to meet a congregation of men and women who had collectively abandoned Christianity and were attempting as best they could to live as Jews. All well and good, but the thought of interacting with them in small groups interested me not a whit. What was I to say to them beyond, “What, are you nuts?” Converting to Judaism is difficult enough under normal circumstances, but sooner or later they would most likely have to deal with the Israeli Rabbinate, and that is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Proverbial spoiler alert: By unanimous consent (that means including me), our visit to Erode was the absolute highlight of our trip. Here’s what went on. Continue reading
At this point, some of you may be wondering if our intrepid group of adventurers left the relative comforts of Bombay, took a series of plane rides to New Delhi and then Manipur, and then traveled south in a caravan of taxis for no other reason than to admire the admittedly gorgeous view at the state park or for yours truly to consider the ramifications of cows walking down a busy street in a small village along the way? That seems like a long way to go for such a modest reward. Never fear, gentle reader, you may be sure that there is more to it than that. We did have another destination: a village wherein we would find members of another group on our itinerary, the Bnei Menashe, eagerly awaiting our arrival. Continue reading
I think most of us have had moments like this, when you feel kind of small, when you realize you’ve been complaining over nothing very important. It was Monday morning, and some of us were standing by a large picture window with a view of Imphal and the surrounding mountains. It was obvious that the brand new, almost completed Grand Hotel were staying in was not in the same league as the super deluxe President Hotel in Bombay. What was irking most of our companions, who felt the need to be “connected” round the clock, was the spotty Internet service. Apparently each floor had its own network, and that was driving people batty. What perplexed me was the one toothbrush the hotel gave us. Some of the hotels we stayed at gave their guests complimentary toothbrushes in addition to the usual soaps and shampoos; some didn’t. We of course had our own toothbrushes, which we assiduously kept clean with bottled water, so we didn’t feel the need to use the hotel freebies. But if the hotel was going to give them out, why put out only one if there are two people in the room? Continue reading
Four o’clock in the morning. There is almost no reason to have to wake up at this ungodly hour – unless you have to catch a flight. Which is what we had to do, get to the Mumbai airport to board a plane to New Delhi, to catch another one to Manipour. While I’m sure all of us in the group felt it was too early at 4:30 Sunday morning, the hotel lobby was filled with young people for whom it was still Saturday night. They were still PARTYING big time, not a care in the world. I even noticed one Indian young lady in a mini-skirt, the only one I saw the two weeks were in India. Whatever else you want to say about the Indians, they do dress modestly. Continue reading
There we were, back in the President Hotel, getting ready for Shabbat. But how does that work in Mumbai? It’s not an issue in any hotel in Israel. You go to the front desk and ask for an old-fashioned key, which you use on Shabbat instead of the normal swipe card to unlock the door to your room. There’s invariably a handy staircase to go up and down. Some of them even have a Shabbat elevator! That’s because hotels in Israel expect that some of their guests are shomer Shabbat. But what do you do in Indian hotels, where Shabbat is less of a priority? They don’t have room keys, and they only have “emergency” exits for staircases. Ralphy, as always, to the rescue. Continue reading
As our excursion to India was a genuine, authentic OU “adventure,” it goes without saying that every morsel of food we ate was kosher and that we as a group prayed three times a day. Most of the time, the davening was standard – nothing to write home about. However, the morning minyan the second day was a little out of the ordinary. The plan was for us to board a boat and head down to an island south of Mumbai, where we would get on a bus and drive to a small village to visit a Bene Israel synagogue. Someone had this bright idea: Why don’t we daven shacharit on the boat? Then we can have a pre-packaged breakfast while we’re traveling. We can save time that way. There’s a large box somewhere out there to put all the plans that “seemed like a good idea at the time,” and this doozy certainly would qualify! Continue reading