Once again Cecily Hanson organized a wonderful trip for ESRA friends to the Cochin Jewish Heritage Center in Moshav Nevatim. We left Raanana at 7am, which some people thought was too early, but in fact it was perfect as we met no traffic on the way south. We were taken on a guided tour of the center and synagogue, were served a wonderful vegetarian lunch prepared by the community, and were beautifully entertained by its ladies with melodic Indian songs.
On Moshav Nevatim, a dust-blown, palm-studded community on the northern edge of Israel's Negev Desert, stands a small little synagogue with an enormous past. The Kerala Synagogue was built in the style of the synagogues of India's Cochini Jews, a small handful of whom settled in Nevatim in the 1950s after emigrating from the Indian state of Kerala.
The synagogue has two reader platforms – a unique trademark of Cochini worshippers – as well as traditional wooden benches and electric lights meant to resemble the oil lamps of the synagogues the Cochini Jews left behind. Some say the Cochini Jews, India's first established Jewish community, came to the subcontinent 2000 years ago, during the time of King Solomon. Others claim they settled in Kerala after reaching India's fertile Malabar Coast as pepper traders. Today, most Cochini Jews live in Israel, cherishing the relics of their tradition even as each generation grows more and more assimilated.
We then drove to Beersheba to the Kalisher Community Garden, established in 2008 by Earth's Promise (which describes itself as an educational, sustainable and sociable setting in Beersheba) together with the Ethiopian community in the Kalisher Absorption Center.
Activities that take place in the garden include developing traditional Ethiopian crops, which provide the community with fresh produce as well as opportunities for leisure activities, enrichment courses and employment. The absorption center, run by the Jewish Agency, includes some 50 plots of community gardens. The crops grown are traditional Ethiopian vegetables like ma'sashila, a type of pumpkin, and barbery, a type of hot pepper.
Our full bus was not only able to observe two completely different cultures, but in addition the proceeds from the event went to Neve ESRA, an afternoon care center for at-risk children in Modiin.