I knew Israelis were ever-present in Goa, when the first restaurant I stopped in, Shiva Cafe in Anjuna, had falafel, humous, schnitzel and shakshouka on the menu. I really knew it when the Indian waiter asked if I wanted it in a pita or a lafa.
At the famous Wednesday market, I not only saw tons of Israelis, and heard Hebrew throughout the air, but even found a table with a yellow "Moshiach" flag. Manning the table was a bearded, young, haredi fellow offering tefillin to the Israeli passers-by.
That young Lubavitvcher chap was Menachem Lenchner, who invited me back to the Chabad House. Wandering back from Anjuna's beach, I passed by yellow signs in Hebrew for the Chabad House. I hopped off the bike and found my way to a large white house.
Over fresh lemonade, I spoke with Menachem at the Chabad House. Hailing from Rehovot, he has been working as a shaliach (emissary) in Goa for two months. He showed me pictures of the different Hanukka parties Chabad had throughout India.
I also spoke with Rebbetzin Maya Ephraim. Her husband, Rabbi Guy Ephraim, was away in Florida picking up kosher goods. Before I conducted the interview, the mother of four made sure I was well-fed. After a delicious, kosher Indian stew of chicken, potatoes and carrots over rice, with papayas and bananas on the side, I spoke with Rebbetzin Ephraim about Jewish life in Goa.
This is the rabbi and rebbetzin's second stint in India, a slightly more permanent one following a tourist season at the Chabad House in Kasol. The rebbetzin discussed the importance of helping tend the flock of more than 100 families. In the northern Goa area, there are more than 400 Jews presently residing, not to mention the scores of Israeli backpackers.
The Chabad House operates a kindergarten for Goa's Jewish kids, and offers a weekly lesson for the children as well as holiday parties. Rebbetzin Ephraim stressed the importance of teaching the children who they are and where they come from, especially in a far away place like Goa.
The Chabad House receives its kosher meat from Chabad in Mumbai.
Although there is no mikvah, the beautiful blue Goan sea offers a substitute. Between 20-25 people show up daily; weekly Shabbat services attract about 50-60, and draw as many as 80 people during the height of tourist season.
Goa is so full of Israelis, that Goans I spoke with thought Israel was a huge country with 70 million people or so.
The Israeli presence in Goa, and the Jewish life that surrounds it, are just part of the continuing story of our peripatetic people.
Paul Rockower served as the Press Officer for the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest in Houston from 2003 until 2006. He is currently on a six month trek around the world. You can read more of his misadventures at his blog: http://levantine18.blogspot.com and see pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18.