A huge German Shepard guards the entrance. But even as you retreat in fear, a short man comes out and demands to know your identity. Then, he immediately breaks into a smile and welcomes you inside.
“This is my dog, Rambo. He protects us,” says the man. He is Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar.
The fear felt by the Jewish community in India echoes at the Judah Hyam Synagogue on Humayun Road too, the Capital’s lone synagogue. Though Delhi’s Jewish community comprises only 40 members, many foreigners visit the synagogue. Till recently, it saw close to 100 visitors per day.
“Nowadays, we get around eight visitors each day. We had the Friday service last week in memory of the victims of Mumbai’s terror attack and only 20 people turned up when at least 50 people usually attended,” said Malekar.
He said he has arranged for a PCR van to be stationed outside the synagogue during the Friday prayers.
Approximately 200 Israelis and Americans, including diplomats, visit the synagogue every week. Malekar has received suggestions on checking passports and travel documents of visitors before allowing them inside. But he feels such measures would draw undue attention. “Such publicity might make us more vulnerable,” said Malekar.
Many visitors have been calling him up, wondering whether it was safe to visit the synagogue. “I tell them not to fear because the Almighty is here to protect us,” he said.
Nevertheless, he feels that to comfort visitors, he must beef up security during Hannukah, the Jewish festival that starts on December 21 and ends on December 28. The period sees daily prayers, as well as the highest attendance of the year, when a candle is lit on the menorah (candle-stand) on each of the eight days.
Such measures are necessary, he feels, if he hopes to maintain the minyan, the quorum of 10 men required for the reading of the holy Torah. “Right now, we have been counting the women as men too. So, we have managed the required number,” he said, and bid goodbye with the word shalom (peace).