Jews. in India?!
That was my response when the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) asked me in 2013 to make a documentary about the Jewish community in India.
Having grown up in a traditional Jewish household, I was familiar with the idea of Jewish community; having the Internet and a few friends of Indian descent, I became as familiar with Indian culture as I could without experiencing it firsthand.
So a few minutes before the plane touched down and I was introduced to the complete sensory overload that is India, I realized that I was prepared to meet Jews and I was prepared to meet Indians, but I still wasn't prepared to meet Jewish Indians.
The thought of women lighting Shabbat candles while wearing saris, and men reciting traditional Jewish blessings over plates of curried rice and coconut milk was something I couldn't wrap my mind around.
Witnessing and participating in these customs is something I'll never forget.
While eight days is hardly enough to truly get to know a country or a community, we did our best to do just that.
We rode rickshaws between visits to Jewish community members. We rode packed trains among the country's masses, and boats through the coastal Alibag region, an area brimming with Indian Jewish history. We saw big cities and small towns, some rich, some poor. We met Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, with whom we talked, sang and danced.
I did a stand-up set at the Mumbai Jewish Community Center, and I played cricket with India's young Jewish leaders. I paid my respects at the community's Jewish cemeteries, and I sang traditional songs with Indian Jewish children at Gan Katan, a school sponsored by JDC. I even sang Meatloaf with the community's elderly. Seriously, watch the video.
The community welcomed me and our crew with open arms. It was an honor to get to know them -- and that's why we made this film -- because not everyone can have this experience for themselves. We wanted to bring India's 2,100 year old Jewish community to your computer screens and smartphones.
This is a country that's incredibly beautiful and unique, as is its Jewish community.