Laddu, halwa flavour of Indian Hanukkah
Four days into Hanukkah, and the Indian flavour is easily dominating the Jewish ‘Festival of Lights’.
Forget latkes (fried potato pancakes), sufganiyot (doughnuts) and chocolate gelt (coin-shaped confectionary), the Capital’s Jews are asserting their native tastes.
“I make puranpoli (roti stuffed with gram and jaggery), modak laddus and sweet rice, halwa and samosas,” said Diana Malekar, a Maharashtrian Jew.
This Hanukkah is a subdued affair for Wing Commander Rahamin Varulkar, whose wife Jessica is unwell. Nevertheless, the couple visit the Judah Hyam Synagogue, on Humayun Road to light the menorah (candle stand) because — amongst other things — “menorahs are unavailable in Delhi.”
But the menorah, too, has adapted to local conditions. While it’s made of wood or silver in Israel, it’s brazen here. “It could be because brass was never costly in India and the craftsmen here were expert in moulding it,” Rahamin explained.
Again, unlike western menorahs that burn candles, Indian Jews prefer them with oil lamps. To light these lamps, they use coconut oil — another departure from tradition, as olive oil is the fuel of choice in the Promised Land.
“The first Jews to arrive in India had settled in Kerala, where olive oil was nonexistent. Even today, it is an expensive and unviable option,” Rahamin said.
Jews abroad light menorahs, using the shamash (middle candle), but in India a separate candle is used. “Even when we perform prayers, we are different. Indian classical music has influenced our chanting,” said Rabbi Malekar.
But there’s one tradition that Indian Jews still follow like their brethren worldwide. On Hanukkah, they make it a point to gift toys, especially dreidels (spinning tops), to children. No Indian spin there!