Not many may know that the Judah Hyam Synagogue, Delhi's only synagogue, established in 1956 is located near Khan Market where a small crowd of Jews gather every Friday for Shabbat, their evening prayers.
The presence of Jews in Delhi dates back to several centuries. In fact the stories go that some Jews settled in Delhi even before the British colonial era. When the capital of India shifted to Delhi from the then Calcutta in 1911, Jews were an essential part of government services. During the World War II too, Jewish soldiers arrived here. A few German and Polish Jews, who survived the Holocaust, also settled in the city. India's 1951
Census listed 35,000 Jews in the population which has been reduced to about 5000 now. Out of these just around 35-40 reside in Delhi.
Says Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honourary secretary and the rabbi (priest) at the Hyam synagogue, "There are about six to seven Indian Jew families in the city apart from the embassy officials who are stationed here. Delhi has a floating population unlike Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, so the sense of community is diverse and stronger over here."
Right next to the synagogue is the library and the inter-faith centre, which offers a wide range of books, and a comparative study of religions. Jew kids also come here every week for Hebrew classes. Even non-Jews can come to the library and the centre with an appointment. Says Malekar who lives with his family in the synagogue complex, " India is the only country where Jews haven't faced anti-semitism and persecution." He also helps in arranging the religious shawl (tsisith), the skull cap (kippa), the shofar (conch), the Star of David and the kosher Jewish candles.
The community is so small that the marriage of Malekar's daughter Shulamith last November made headlines as the capital's first Indian Jewish wedding in 50 years. Malekar feels that religion shouldn't cause any discrimination. He says, "Our liberal approach allows us to survive. For reading the Torah, the religious text you must require ten men. But here, I count the women as well."
With thousands of visitors every year at the synagogue, and regular Shabbat prayer meets, this microscopic community still has hope for survival despite its diminishing numbers.
Areas like Paharganj and Vasant Vihar in the city also get glimpses of this small community at the Chabad houses located there. The Chabad House in both the areas are given police security after the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. One would find Israeli Jew travellers playing chess, reading books and enjoying Israeli meals in the restaurant which offers Israeli cuisine. Israeli breakfast that includes Falafel, Malawa, Ziva, Fatut, Schnitzel, Humus with Pita bread is offered at other cafes like Sam's Café, Diamond Café and a few others in Paharganj. Says Shmulik, an Israeli Jew who manages the place, "The Chabad house in Vasant Vihar is mainly for families and officials. Here in Paharganj, mostly travellers visit." Discussions on Judaism, Hebrew lessons, and Friday prayers are a common practice here. The small community has become an inseparable part of the capital and Malekar sums it up by saying, "Israel is in our hearts but India is in our blood."