For Chaya Kozlovsky, India is marked by extremes: extreme heat, extreme smells and extreme culture shock for the native Israeli. Add to that the seemingly extreme differences of those sitting around her first Sabbath in Mumbai, where she and her husband, Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky, are the new co-directors of the Chabad-Lubavitch center.
“There are American businessmen, Israeli backpackers, Belgian diamond dealers, a local from the Indian Jewish community, and the kosher supervisor from Monsey, New York—all of these extremes are sitting around our table,” she says.
The couple arrived less than two weeks ago to assist them with their Jewish needs.
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For the holiday of Purim an eclectic group of 60 gathered, and this past Shabbat there were 40 people. Individuals had to contact the center’s directors in advance to receive the location information, which for security reasons is kept secret.
For her part, Kozlovsky has connected with the local Jewish community, regular visitors to the country, and other Chabad students and rabbis who have rotated there to care for the Chabad center. The rabbi over the past few months learned how to ritually slaughter chickens, a necessity in a country with no kosher food infrastructure.
The rabbi says that soon they will restart weekly Jewish classes and yeshiva learning programs on Sundays for the local youth. Here he helps a local resident put on tefillin.
Other items will come from Israel, and travelers often bring food boxes into the country for the center.
The Kozlovskys are there for a good reason. “The community wants to grow in their Judaism,” she says. “The question is what is the best way to deliver it to them.”
They are working on strengthening the local Kenesset Israel synagogue, where Rabbi Kozlovsky reads from the Torah and leads Shabbat prayers when needed. He says he doesn’t feel so unusual walking in the streets of Mumbai in his distinctive Jewish clothing; after all, “you are not the only one who looks different.”
However, he adds, his attire isn’t made for the Mumbai weather. “It could be over 110 degrees, and all of a sudden it could start raining. My Sabbath clothes are destroyed, and already I need a new prayer shawl.”
The rabbi says that soon they will restart weekly Jewish classes and yeshiva learning programs on Sundays for the local youth. “It is a very hard here physically; spiritually, it is even tougher. We need to invest a lot of more energy into programs, and we hope to achieve great things.”
He says that at the top of his list is to have the Nariman House—where Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were murdered with four other Jews in their Chabad House in 2008—up and running.
Around their table at any given time these days, numerous languages can be heard by an eclectic group of people, yet the rabbi attests that something unites them all: “There is a such a blend of cultures; there is an interesting connection between everyone. Everyone realizes that there is much more that connects us than what separates us.”
“Here, they all dance together and sing together. This is what Jewish unity is.”