Monday, December 01, 2008

City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj

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City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj

A home for travelling Jews.

[Pictures and text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Jewish skullcaps. Hebrew graffiti. Rabbi's hat tucked on the wall. Welcome to Jerusalem.

Now come back to Delhi. We never left. It's just Paharganj and we are in Chabad House, a sort of a Jewish community club.

With headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, Chabad Houses are established all over the world. Look for it in touristy places visited by Israelis. There is a Chabad House in Dharmshala, in Pushkar and one such was at Bombay's Nariman House. On November 26, 2008, it was attacked by terrorists and its caretaker couple were killed.

With the tragedy still resonating in newspapers, I walked into Paharganj bylanes in search of Delhi's only Chabad House. It used to be in a room at Hare Rama Guest House but now... it's not there!

"It shifted," the receptionist said. He guided me to a street lined with internet cafes and a few steps later I spotted a signboard — Chabad House.

Perhaps what McDonald's is for travelling Americans, Chabad House is for Israelis — something familiar in a foreign land. A home away from home.

Israeli backpackers on their way to Dharmshala or Goa usually make a stopover in Paharganj hostelries and it is in this Chabad House that they drop by to celebrate Jewish festivals like Hanukkah and Passover. If there's no special occasion, they simply gather together to share the weekend Sabbath meals.

Where are they today?

With its bookshelves, low tables and wooden chests, the hall appears to be a meditative retreat but it's empty. I climb another set of stairs. Here is a large cooking range and beside it is standing a large hairy man. Emmanuel, a tourist from a town near Haifa, has just returned from Himanchal and has barged in the Chabad House to spend a quiet afternoon. He knows the couple who takes care of this place. "They have gone to Mumbai after the murder of the Rabbi there," he says.

"Can it happen here, too?" I ask.

"My friend, many people are worried," Emmanuel says, looking straight into me. "The most we can do is pray." He leads me to the prayer hall. "See, this is just a room but it is so lovely, so calm because of what you feel each time you are here."

Emmanuel opens a cupboard and shows me holy scrolls that I'm not allowed to touch. "It's read only during the festivals," he says with some pride.

Emmanuel is obviously a man in love with his religion but I'm told that non-observant Jews, too, come to Chabad House to be among their own in this alien land. "Here we pray, eat and rest together," says Emmanuel. "This is a precious getaway."

Considering that there are only 10 Jewish families and one synagogue in Delhi, this Chabad House is indeed precious. After Mumbai attacks, it appears endangered, too. Delhi must never lose it.

Jew spotting

It's Not Jerusalem

The narrow path

City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj

Inside Chabad House

City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj

Maid in Israel

City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj

Lost in translation

City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj


City Secret - Chabad House, Paharganj


Gora Firanghi said...

Timely and interesting.

Manu said...

Ten Jewish hostages had been murdered in the recent Mumbai Carnage. Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of American Friends of Lubavitch, said that two of the dead were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who directed the Chabad House. Rabbi Holtzberg was a dual US - Israel citizen; Rivka was Israeli. The identities of the other three Israelis were not released. Earlier, a cook from Chabad House in Mumbai fled to safety with the Holtzbergs' 2-year-old son, Moshe. The boy’s pants were soaked in blood when he emerged.

Two years old. Soaked with blood - and his family is now dead. My god - what can you say other than to swear that the Islamist scum behind this, those that planned it and those who secretly cheer at the slaughter will never prevail. It is 9/11 days we live in and these are 9/11 killers.

And lets be Politically Incorrect about this. I quote Shobha De here, "Lets call a Spade a Bloody Shovel."

It is more difficult for people like Osama Bin Laden or Dawood Abrahim or even President Asif Ali Zardari to get youth into performing such suicidal acts. No amount of monetary compensation would be enough to lure anybody into this.
But by using the name of Jihad and Islam it gets more easier to recruit them. The brainswashing thats done to these people about- "You will die for Islam and will get to make love forever with 72 Virgins in Heaven" make them turn into mass murdering Maniacs.

Yakova said...

i remember the holtzbergsm, they always had an open door for us wandering jews...

Jocelyn M. Berger said...

I spent a lot of time with Gabi and Rivky at the Mumbai Chabad, also one Shabbat (Sabbath) meal at this one in Delhi in 2007 - far more crowded and rowdy! A delightful time.

The picture under the caption "lost in translation" says in Hebrew: 'Welcome to Chabad House, your home in Delhi'

@Yakova- that's my Hebrew name too!