I knew Israelis were ever-present in Goa, when the first restaurant I stopped in, Shiva Cafe in Anjuna, Goa, had falafel, humous, schnitzel and shakshouka on the menu. I really knew Israelis were ever-present when the Indian waiter asked if I wanted my falafel in a pita or a lafa. Not bad falafel, humous, chips and salad in a pita for a place so far away from Ben Yehuda Street.
I really knew Israelis were ever-present in Anjuna, when at the famous Wednesday Market did I not only see tons of Israelis, and hear Hebrew throughout the air, but even found amid the bustling market a table with a yellow "moschiach" flag. Manning the table was a bearded young orthodox fellow, offering tefillin to the Israeli passers-by.
That young dati chap was Menachem Lenchner, who invited me back to the Beit Chabad. Wandering back from Anjuna's beach, lost on the back of an Indian friend's motorcycle, I passed by yellow signs in Hebrew for the Beit Chabad. I hopped off the bike and found my way to a large white house with a huge yellow "mosiach" flag hanging above.
Over fresh lemonade, I spoke with Menachem at the Beit Chabad. Menachem, from Rehovot, Israel, has been working as a shaliach in Goa for 2 months, with 3 more months on the itinerary. He showed me pictures of the different Chanukkah parties Chabad had throughout India; some of the Chanukkah parties were truly huge. Besides the Beit Chabad in Anjuna, Goa, there are eight other Chabad centers in India: Delhi, Dharmasala, Kasol, Manali, Mumbai, Pune, Pushkar, and Rishkesh. A few of the locations were cities that I had never even heard of.
I also spoke with Rebbetzin Maya Ephraim. Her husband, Rabbi Guy Ephraim was away in Florida, picking up a container of kosher goods. Jewish mothers the world over are all the same, and before I conducted the interview, the mother of 4 made sure I was well fed. After a delicious kosher Indian stew of chicken, potatoes and carrots, over rice with papayas and bananas on the side, I spoke with Rebbetzin Ephraim on Jewish life in Goa. This is the rabbi and rebbetzin’s second stint in India, a slightly more permanent one following a tourist season at the Beit Chabad in Kasol. The Rebbetzin discussed the importance of helping tend the flock of more than 100 families. In the Northern Goa area, there are more than 400 Jews presently residing, not to mention the scores of Israeli tourists and backpackers.
The Beit Chabad operates a gan for the Goan Jewish kids, and offers a weekly lesson for the children as well as festive holiday parties. Rebbetzin Ephraim stressed the importance of teaching the Jewish children who they are and where they come from, especially in a far away place like Goa.
The Beit Chabad also visits the local hospitals, to tend to the sick and also those injured motorcycle accidents. The Beit Chabad receives its kosher meat from the Chabad in Mumbai. Although there is no mikvah, the beautiful blue Goan sea offers a substitute. Between 20-25 people show up daily, for a little kosher food, to lay tefillin or just to relax in a Jewish environment; weekly Shabbat services run about 50-60, and draw as high as 80 people during the height of tourist season.
But the Israelis of Beit Chabad are only part of story of the Jews in Goa. Back at my guest house, where I had the penthouse suite, i.e. the roof with a mattress for 50 rupees, under the full moon and stars (easily the best accommodation in my long journey), the place was full of Israelis. Goa is so full of Israelis, that Goans I spoke with thought Israel was a huge country with 70 million people or so. Till late in the night, I hung out with a veritable minyon of Israelis- Israelis who had been in Goa for weeks and months, lounging and taking in the fun. The Israeli presence in Goa, and the Jewish life that surrounds it, is just part of the continuing story of our peripatetic people.
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