Indian Jews Work to Maintain Identity, Practices in United States

By Sameer Rao Dec 12, 2017

Jewish communities across the world observe Hanukkah, the annual holy festival that begins tonight (December 12), in ways that are as diverse as the communities themselves. A new article published by NBC Asian America yesterday (December 11) highlights how an often overlooked part of the diaspora—Indian Jews in New York City—preserves its Hanukkah traditions in the United States. 

Rabbi Romiel Daniel, who grew up in Mumbai’s millennia-old Bene Israel community, is the first Desi synagogue leader in America. NBC Asian America says that he performs both Bene Israel and European-descended Ashkenazi services at Rego Park Jewish Center in Queens, which he leads. Nearly 100 Indian Jews across New York and New Jersey rely on him to help preserve their customs. 

"We follow the same practices that we had in India," he explains. "They are identical to the way we did back home in Bombay," he continues, using a former name for Mumbai that the British popularized during colonialism. 

These practices include using a small cup of oil in the menorah, the candelabra traditionally lit during Hanukkah, instead of candle wax. Daniel also makes wine from dried raisins, as Indian Jews did in antiquity.