Hundreds of Indian Jews of the Bene Israel community, hailing from the Maharashtra region, descended to Jerusalem on Monday evening from all over Israel to celebrate the recognition of their 'Malida' ceremony as an official national holiday of the Hebrew Calendar.
Overwhelmed by the recognition, which was achieved by the efforts of some of the youngsters of the community who call themselves 'HaDor HaChadash' (The New Generation), the Bene Israel community celebrated 'Malida' at 70 locations across the world, including India, United States and Israel.
The Bene Israel community has been performing the 'Malida' ceremony on most of their festive occasions, and especially on the Jewish festival of Tu B'Shvat, also called as the new year of the trees.
Tradition says that the community's forefathers arrived in India in 175 BCE (Before the Current Era), exactly on Tu B'Shvat. Their ship, sadly, is said to have sunk off the coast of India, but seven men and as many women were saved from the catastrophe.
After they were saved, Prophet Elijah is said to have appeared to them and promised that their offspring would once again settle in the Land of Israel, and until then they would be integrated into the Indian subcontinent.
In commemoration of the event, the Bene Israel community celebrates the 'Malida' ceremony on every Tu B'Shvat.
"It is a great achievement and a wonderful feeling to be acknowledged. The community has gone through several upheavals in Israel in its efforts to integrate with other Jewish communities. But this is a moment to forget everything and celebrate", Eliaz Dendeker, a young member of the community told PTI.
Eliaz has written several books on the community's struggles and its traditions.
The community members who gathered in Jerusalem were particularly appreciative of the efforts of Golan Cherikar Shrikar and Shimrit Levi of 'The New Generation' movement who began a campaign to incorporate this holiday into the Jewish calendar in cooperation with The Hebrew Calendar Project several years ago.
"I express my appreciation to the new generation of Jews in Israel for their efforts in instituting this important day in the official calendar of Israel and for creating awareness about Malida in Israeli schools," India's Ambassador to Israel, Sanjeev Singla, told the community members during the celebrations.
Cheli Tabibi Barakat, founder and director of the Hebrew Calendar Project, told the Indians gathered in Jerusalem that "it is a matter of pride that the Bene Israel community has preserved this tradition for 2000 years".
"All of us have a lot to learn about family and community values from your community given the way you have maintained and preserved your customs generation after generation," Barakat stressed.
At the core of Malida is a dish and a ceremony surrounding the food. The dish of sweetened, moistened, parched (dried) and flattened rice is prayed over and offered to God.
The dish is served and celebrated during all happy occasions in the community like weddings, Moshe, an elderly member of the community explained.
The sweetened and flattened rice, mixed with coconut flakes, flavoured and scented with cardamom, and garnished with almonds and pistachios, is served as a heaping mound on a large thali and adorned with five fruits.
Traditionally, the fruits used are banana, orange, apple, date, and pear, although they can be replaced by other seasonal fruits. The thali is then decorated with roses or rose petals, and, depending on the lifecycle event that is being celebrated and the day of the week, it might be decorated with cloves (besamim, or aromatic spices) and served at the ceremony.
Group discussions were also held during the occasion which focussed on research linked to the Malida holiday, its connection to Tu B'Shvat, the Prophet Elijah, songs, hymns, and stories of the Children of Israel in India and more.
Well-known Israeli singer of Indian origin, Liora Itzhak, sang a Marathi song dedicated to Eliyahu HaNevi.
'HaDor HaChadash', in cooperation with the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, the Embassy of India in Israel, the Indian Jewish Heritage Center (IJHC), Yeshiva Mizrachit, and the Hebrew Calendar Project, took the lead in organising the event.
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