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Malida- An Indian Bene Israel Community Tradition

Today's blogpost was written by Jonathan Nagavkar, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Rishon LeZion.

After a wonderful response from my first blog about the Indian Jewish community I would like to follow it up with the second most important thing in the Bene Israeli community from India and Israel…

Malida mostly called by the Indian bene Israeli community from Mumbai, also known as a Sedar Eliyahu Hanavi or Giving Thanks ceremony is performed by the community before or during any auspicious ceremony such as weddings, bar-mitzvah, engagements, naming ceremonies, birthdays and even house-warming ceremonies.

This ritual has been a very important part of the bene Israeli community for centuries. Without this ceremony, any important function in the bene Israeli family is incomplete.

This ritual is only observed by the bene Israeli community and not by the cochin Jews, bene Ephraim, or the Baghdadi Jews.

There is a history behind this. It is folk story that I can’t promise to be true but it is something I was told by my grandpa.

Mostly in the 16th century, the bene Israeli community was living near a coastal village near Mumbai called Alibagh. Even the village has a pretty good Jewish history. Rhe village was named after a Jewish person who had many farmland. His name was Ali. That’s why its called Alibagh. Jews used to live in peace with many communities specifically the Hindu brahmins ( Hindu priest community), the kolis ( the fisherman community), and Muslims( Islam).

There was harmony and good relations between the community in the vicinity. They also use to participate in each other’s festivals like Diwali, Holi, Eid, Rosh hoshana, Passover and many more.

All the communities decided that they will carry some of their community specialty to the others’ functions. The Muslims decided to carry shir kurma which is type of sweet dish made out of condensed milk, sugar and lots of dry fruits. The kolis took puran poli which is a sweet type of tortilla. The Jewish community didn’t have a signature dish so some Jewish traders dealing in food items decided to bring things from their businesses. Some brought poha(flattened rice), sugar, dry fruits, and shredded coconut. After much thought, the bene Israeli came up with a very tasty dish named Malida. They took it along with them to the Hindu function and distributed among all communities, and what was the outcome??? All the communities enjoyed the dish. After that event the bene Israeli decided to make this dish as a part of their rituals and culture.

Afterward, religious heads decided that they would offer this dish as a giving of thanks before any auspicious functions and ceremonies in the community. Malida has become synonymous with celebrating the Prophet Eliyahu and giving thanks to him.

In Alibagh, there is place where the Jews believe that the prophet Elijah’s chariot slipped from a rock and it has a horse foot mark still there. The local family living near the rock for centuries also believes the same. Their forefather also who saw a chariot flying in the air describe the same posture the way it is describe in the old testament.

The malida platter…filled with five types of fruits, some flowers and flattened rice with sugar powder and shredded coconut.

The bene Israeli community from the entire alibagh village came together and performed the malida ceremony with a wonderful song. “ eliyahuu hanavi…eliyahuu hanavi”

This ceremony has become a very important part of this Jewish community’s life and thus, there are rules about when Malida can and cannot be performed.

It is customary NOT to hold the “Malidah Ceremony” on the following days:

  • Erev Shabbath,

  • Shabbath,

  • Erev Rosh Chodesh,

  • Rosh Chodesh,

  • Erev Yom Tov,

  • Yom Tov,

  • From the 13th of Nissan (two days before Pesah) until Lag BaOmer (18th of Iyar) [ some say until Shavuoth ] ,

  • From the 17th of Tammuz until Tu-Be Av,

  • During the Ten Days of Repentance which are the first 10 days of Tishrei i.e. from 1st to 10th of Tishrei, or rather from Rosh Hashanah till end of Yom Kippur,

  • Isru Hag (the day following Yom Tov),

  • On the communal fast days. These are the 5 rabbinic fast days, the Prophets designated to observe as national tragedies. They are

  • The10th of Tevet when the armies of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem,

  • 17th of Tammuz when Moses destroyed the Golden Calf, and re-ascended Mount Sinai to plead G-d’s forgiveness for the Jewish people,

  • Tisha B’Av which is the 9th day of Av, which is the day on which the Holy Temples which stood in Jerusalem were destroyed,

  • The Fast of Gedaliah which is 4th of Tishrei,

  • The Fast of Esther which is the 13th of Adar.

  • Purim (14th of Adar),

  • Purim Shushan (15th of Adar).

The status of Malida in Israel:

As Sigd is the Ethiopian national holiday recognized all over Israel, the bene Israeli community is attempting to make Malida a national holiday for the community in order for them to thank God for opening the door of the state of Israel for them. A where they could flourish and create a safe and healthy future for themselves and their future generations in Israel.

Check out this video of the Malida Ceremony in for the Bene Israeli community:

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