Melbourne’s India-born Jews to give a taste of curries at festival


Food is naturally a preoccupation – if not obsession. Festival-goers can tuck into a great variety of Jewish food including curry tasting at the One Voice Jewish street festival to be held on March 20. On the menu are also cheesecake bakeoff and a bagel eating competition.

Festival Manager Judith Weizman said that most people, including many in the Jewish community, weren’t aware that Jews settled in India, probably in the year 175 BCE, after being shipwrecked off the coast of Mumbai.

“Other Jewish migrants settled in and around Mumbai in the eighteenth century and then in a few other places. The Bene Israel (‘Sons of Israel’), as they are known, have a few Jewish customs that are unique only to them. They maintain a ritual called ‘Malida’ which involves men sitting around a plate full of roasted rice, fruits, spices and flowers and singing songs praising the Prophet Elijah,” Weizman said.

“Jews in India experienced little anti-Semitism and they developed good relations with the local community in what was a predominantly Hindu society. It is estimated that there were 6,000 Bene Israel in the 1830s, 10,000 at the turn of the twentieth century, and 20,000 in 1948, which was the peak. Since then, most of the population has migrated to Israel but there are still eight synagogues in Mumbai.”

Mumbai-born Jews, Salome Erulkar and Jennifer Mordechai, who both emigrated to Australia in the nineties from Israel, are keen to explain to festival-goers how to make black-eyed bean curry, green pea and potato curry, pappadams plus Shabbat cake called Kanavli.

Both women contributed to Curry not Gefilte Fish, a cookbook published two years ago by the National Council of Jewish Women and funded by Victorian Multicultural Commission.

Salome Erulkar, who lives in the outer eastern suburbs, says: “Indian Jewish food involves a lot of vegetables, chickpeas and lentils but we also cook mutton, chicken and ‘kosher’ fish (fish with scales). Naturally, we use a lot of spices!”

Jennifer Mordechai, lives in the northern suburbs and is a member of a Sephardic synagogue in Balaclava.

“Not many people in the Jewish Community in Australia knew that there were three vital Jewish communities in India – the Bene Israel community which Salome and I are part of and the Baghdadi and Cochin communities. I migrated to Israel at the age of 19 in 1975. Israel is now home to a large Bene Israel community – but some, like Salome and me, later migrated to Australia.”

In One Voice is also offering an impressive concert line up, an art exhibition, craft stalls, and community stalls plus traditional entertainments such as egg-and-spoon races, a sack race and a tug-of-war which will pit Jewish politicians and school principals against youth leaders. The festival will be held in Elsternwick. (TIW)