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Nariman House lights up, dispels 26/11 darkness
Young and old members of the Jewish community, from Mumbai, Israel, US and Australia got together to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.

It's always been a place of hospitality," said preschool teacher Menuhah Peters as she took a bite of the sufganiyah. "But after the attacks six years ago, it's also become a place where we come to pay our respects and remember that light always dispels darkness. What better time than Hanukkah for that?" 



It was a little after 9pm on Tuesday at Colaba's Nariman House and the room was packed. Young and old members of the Jewish community, from Mumbai, Israel, US and Australia, milled around. Platters of potato latkes (pancakes), sufganiyah (jelly-filled doughnuts) and the flaky rugelach, bursting with chocolate, made their way out of the kitchen and waited on the long tables for guests to dig in. But before that, it was time to light the menorah, marking the beginning of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights. 



It was the first such occasion at the Chabad-Lubavitch centre in Colaba, better known as Nariman House, since it reopened in August this year. One of the targets in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, the building had been left bullet-ridden and bereft of its directors Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and wife Rivky who died in the siege. 



"But today we send the message that goodness and light cannot be defeated by those committing such acts of terror," said Elena Winchester, who is visiting from the US on a volunteering programme. "Nariman House will continue to be a haven for Jews from across the world." Her sentiments were echoed by the others as they lit candles, led by new rabbi Israel Kozlovsky and his wife Chaya, sang blessings, met old friends, and made new ones. The Hanukkah plans at Nariman House include traditional games, a women-only night and also a huge event at the Gateway of India this Sunday where Mumbaikars from across communities can join in the festivities. 



Joseph Bhondkar, who lives in the neighbourhood, was quizzed on the differences between customs among Jews in India and America. "At my home, for instance, we pray in Marathi. Also, during Hanukkah, you're supposed to make deep-fried dishes as it celebrates the miracle of oil burning for eight days," he said. "But while there are sufganiyah and latkes here, my mum made bhajiyas and karanjis growing up." While Bhondkar now lives in the US, he made it a point to visit Nariman House while in town on vacation. 



Guests discussed travel plans ("You absolutely must go to Jaipur and Udaipur.") and which Bollywood actors were Jewish, shared family anecdotes and exchanged confidences. One spoke about how he grew up as a Palestinian Muslim and secretly converted to Judaism some years ago. "I was asked to be president of the Jewish Club in high school as they wanted to build a good, all-accepting image," he said, on condition of anonymity. "But eventually, I realised that I'm more spiritually connected to this faith and decided to convert. My family still doesn't know." 



A Chabad House is often what Jewish tourists first look up when they are in a new city, said Peters, who teaches at a school in Washington DC. "India is beautiful but it can get a little disorienting sometimes. And amid that craziness, the Chabad House offers us a space to connect and share our experiences with other Jews. It is a calming place of our own."



Source: Times of India



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