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Worldview: In India, Passover is a balancing act

East meets West at the seder table, somewhere between the lime juice and the mashed dates.

Sentiments among the community are now a bit more nuanced — some say they still feel safe among their neighbors; others quietly worry about tensions with the Muslim community. Most see the increased security at the handful of synagogues as a necessary precaution.

Despite the security, Jewish life moves forward.

We pass the officers and make our way into the synagogue, decorated with blue Stars of David and a poster of a woman’s hands clasped together, her arms adorned with bangles.

About 50 people have gathered on this second night of Passover for a community seder. A man leads the group in the reading of the Haggadah, the book that tells of Moses freeing the Jews from persecution in Egypt thousands of years ago. We read not only the same story I have recited with my family in New York year after year, but also from the very same edition. Like iPhones and Taco Bell, Maxwell House Haggadahs have made their way to India.

As we make our way through the story of slavery and redemption, we say a prayer over and then take a bite of each item on the seder plate. Here, our traditions differ. Rather than dipping parsley (symbol of rebirth) into salt water (reminder of tears of oppression), we dunk it into limejuice. The mortar the Jewish slaves used to build bricks is represented not by chopped apples and wine but by mashed dates.

When we get to the 10 plagues, everyone puts one hand over their wine glass while the leader recites the plagues and pours wine into a basin. I notice an American Jew at the seder simultaneously performs our Ashkenazi ritual of dipping his pinky into his glass and taking out a drop of wine for each plague to diminish his own joy. So American, I think, he has to do it his way.

We eventually arrive at the meal. Rather than brisket and potato kugel, the group enjoys a delicious green chicken curry over rice. A vegetarian, I eat rice with Indian dal.

As the meal ends, the American pulls out his guitar. He is going to teach the crowd some new songs. I roll my eyes a little.

But then I hear the music — “When Israel was in Egypt’s land …” — and I am immediately transported to Eisner summer camp in the Berkshires. I think of my friends back home. I think of my family gathered at their seder in New York and imagine my sister and Aunt Ruth leading the group in song. I relax in my seat and sing along.

The song catches on, and soon the roomful of Bene Israel Jews is singing along with the American and his guitar. One of the old Indian men with spectacles and puffs of white hair peeping out of his blue cap has a joyous smile on his face as he belts out, “Pharaoh, Pharoah, whoah, baby, let my people go.”

The crowd erupts in applause.

Hanna Ingber Win covers Mumbai for GlobalPost. She was formerly the World Editor of the Huffington Post.

Editor's note: The subheadline of the story has been updated.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/100331/passover-india