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Elana Sztokman

She is Transforming Mumbai’s Jewish Community

Powerful Role Models

Simcha Sharona Massil Galsurkar is busy. The 37-year-old mother of three, who works as a full-time Jewish teacher and is one of the pillars of the Mumbai Jewish community, spends every spare second preparing educational materials. A member of India’s 2,000-year-old Bene Israel community, Galsurkar works on a range of projects, from organizing learning groups, to collaborations with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Chabad.

There are nine synagogues in Mumbai, but most struggle to get young people to attend. Only one Mumbai synagogue, Tiphereth Israel in Jacob’s Circle — also known as Kandlekarranchi Masjid—has a strong community, with an estimated 70 families who regularly participate in activities. Galsurkar is on a mission to change this, and to revive Jewish life here. 

“In my family, we went to synagogue and Passover and things like that, but I asked lots of questions, and never got satisfactory answers… After 10th grade, I went to a summer youth camp organized by the JDC [Joint Distribution Committee]. They created such a beautiful Shabbat atmosphere, and for the first time I experienced what Shabbat can be, how magical that it could be.” The camp also broke down a crucial language barrier. “They used a prayerbook that had translations,” she said. “Until then, I had only seen a siddur in Hebrew and I didn’t understand the words. I read the words—peace in the world, kindness, compassion—and I realized I wanted to know more.”

Following the camp, she made a few crucial decisions. One was to go to college in south Mumbai, close to the Jewish community center. She was immediately offered a job teaching Sunday school to Jewish kids. There she met another young woman who had recently returned from a year of study in Jerusalem at Machon Gold. Galsurkar asked her parents if she could go and her parents said yes. When she returned to Mumbai, she worked as a full-time Jewish educator and studied part-time, completing both a B.A. and her M.Sc. in Early Childhood Education.

Two years ago, Rebbetzin Chaya Kozlovsky, the wife of the Chabad rabbi of Mumbai, decided to open up a Jewish school. She immediately approached Galsurkar to lead the teaching. “I’m loving it. This is what I live for,” Galsurkar says. “If in the next 5 or 10 years parents decide to send their kids to this school, this community will come alive again.”


 

ELANA SZTOKMAN on the Lilith Blog.