Local people, places, travels and simchas

Indian adventure

Caren and Tom Newman and Ruth and Ron Kolker at the Spice Route Restaurant in New Delhi, India (Courtesy Ron Kolker)

Before Ruth Kolker embarked on a Portrait of India tour, her friend, Tucson philanthropist Neelam Sethi, sent her off with the charge: “Open yourself up to the colors, sounds and smells of my country.” From Jan. 24 – Feb. 13, that’s exactly what Ruth, her husband, Ron, and fellow travelers Caren and Tom Newman did.

Their voyage began in Delhi and ended in Mumbai. A highlight was a visit to the historic Paradesi Synagogue. Built in 1568 in Kochi’s (formerly Cochin) Jew Town, this house of prayer is the oldest functioning synagogue in the former British Commonwealth. No photos were allowed in the small, ornate, Portuguese-style Sephardic synagogue, which has a floor made of Chinese hand-painted tiles, with no two tiles alike. Judaic shops and other merchants lined the street around the synagogue. Only a handful of Jews are left in this southwestern coastal city in the state of Kerala, as most immigrated to Israel in the mid-1950s. In fact, the Cochin Heritage Center at Moshav Nevatim in Israel’s Negev desert was founded in 1995 by former Cochin residents.

Other unforgettable memories and impressions:

– In Varanasi, Hindu pilgrims come to cremate their dead and worship the holy River Ganges. The sacred goats, cows and dogs roam freely along the river where the cremations take place. On a sunset boat ride, the Tucsonans witnessed the spiritual ceremony of putting the Mother Ganges to sleep.

– In Agra, the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum Shah Jahan built to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

– It was wedding season in India, with ceremonies continuing for days.

– The street congestion, with what seemed like no lanes, cars beeping and going in all directions, auto rickshaws, pedestrians and animals.

– In Mumbai, the sight of laundry being washed outside next to beautiful, modern, high-rise buildings.

As Neelam forecast, the foursome had many memories to take home from this land of passionate, warm people and fascinating sites.

Tu B’Shevat tree planting

With “A” Mountain in the background, planters (L-R) Jan Wezelman, David Bartlett, Lee Surwit, Phil Hall (volunteer/guide), Barbara Goldberg, Anna Rottenstein and Gerry Goldberg (Not pictured: Earl Surwit) (Courtesy Mission Garden)

Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of Trees, fell on Saturday, Feb. 11. In celebration of the holiday, on Sunday, Feb.19, some members of a Tucson havurah (“fellowship”) planted an olive tree at Mission Garden. Mission Garden is a project of the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, whose goal is to recreate and preserve the cultural heritage and historic landscape in the area at the foot of Sentinel Peak. Their plan is to have a garden representing each of the cultural groups and time periods of our community’s 4,100-year history.

This longtime havurah includes Jan Wezelman and David Bartlett, Bonnie Sedlmayr-Emerson and Randy Emerson, Barbara and Gerry Goldberg, Vicki and Phil Pepper, Anna and Myron Rottenstein, and Lee and Earl Surwit. (Terry Holpert and Alan Stein recently moved to California.) The group shares Shabbats, holidays, lifecycle events and participates in tikkun olam (“repairing the world”), such as painting beads at Ben’s Bells and undertaking this tree planting activity.

“Get on the bus”

Talya Fanger-Vexler at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (Courtesy Diane Harland)

Have bus will travel. The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Northwest Division and Hadassah Southern Arizona co-sponsored another field trip to a Southern Arizona destination. On Wednesday, March 8, 40 participants boarded a bus headed to Casa Grande  Ruins National Monument, where they took a guided tour of the 750-year-old ruin. As they traveled to the Queen Creek Olive Mill for lunch, Anne Lowe, Hadassah president, spoke to the group about olives and the first fruits of the Bible. They enjoyed this lovely outing, complete with bus “commercials” – one about the Joint Distribution Committee presented by Phyllis Gold, director of the Jewish Federation Northwest; the other highlighting Hadassah through videos.

Some of the attendees were Deanna Bertrand, Marti Cohen, Diane Harland, Linda Kunsberg, David Lowe, Honey and Murray Manson, Ellen and Leon Williams, Kitty Wu and Talya Fanger-Vexler.

Time to share

I’m all ears. Keep me posted at the Post – 319-1112. L’shalom.