Just before sunset on Friday, Yael Ashtankar and her parents will light a glass lamp at their window and gather around it to sing a Hebrew prayer.
For the Ashtankars, one of the thousand-odd Jewish families in Mumbai, this intimate family ritual marks the first day of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights.
Beginning with one candle on the first day, the festival is traditionally celebrated by adding one more light on each night to the eight-pronged candelabrum called the Hanukkiya. On the final night (December 18 this year) nine flames burn in each Jewish home and synagogue — one for each night and a master flame to light the others.
“During Hanukkah, I always miss my brother,” said Ashtankar, a Thane resident whose brother has been working in Israel for the past seven years. While he gets to participate in large-scale Hanukkah celebrations in Israel, Ashtankar’s celebrations in Mumbai are less elaborate and more intimate.
This year’s Hanukkah is more auspicious for the Ashtankars because the Shahar Hashein Thane synagogue, where they pray, will be re-opened on Sunday after being shut for months for renovations.
“Though special prayers are said in the synagogues at the time of lighting the candles, Hanukkah in India is essentially a family affair,” said Elijah Jacob, manager at the city’s Jewish Community Centre (JCC). While in the US and Europe the Hanukkah celebrations are on the same scale as Christmas’.
Mumbai Jewish organisations will put up a few Hanukkah parties for children and on Thursday, the JCC will host a community get-together.