Shared from the 12/11/2016 The Miami Herald eEdition

A Jewish-themed tour of India


At right, a bejeweled elephant from India makes part of the collection of Nathan Katz and Ellen Goodman. Below is an Indian Mezuzuh that’s also part of the collection.


Nathan Katz, a recently retired FIU professor and Fulbright scholor, and his wife, Ellen Golberg, a writer and photographer, sit on their living room floor with a statue called 'Royal Guardian' from Rajasthan, India, as their cat 'Fitty' sneaks into the picture. On the left is a 19th century Sri Lankan rice chest . The couple have written a book on Jewish Indian life.


PHOTOS BY C.M. GUERRERO. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.comB

Above is Nathan Katz, author of 15 books, in his library in Miami Beach.


At right is his wife, Ellen Goldberg, who lived with him for a year in India and authored the book ‘The Last Jews of Cochin.’

If you go

The India: My Second Home tour costs $7,195 per person, double occupancy, and includes 5-star deluxe hotels, all meals (kosher or strictly vegetarian), concierge service featuring three English-speaking guides and personalized photos/travel blog of the trip, cultural events, internal flights in India, and all tips and taxes. Airfare to and from India and Indian visa fee additional.

For reservations and information, contact trip organizer Pacific Delight Tours at 800-221-7179 or 212-818-1781 or email pdt@pacificdelight

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When he was 5 years old, Nathan Katz — a man whose name has become synonymous with spirituality in South Florida — told his mother during Shabbat dinner that he wanted to go to India. It took a few years for him to make good on the promise, but the now-retired Florida International University professor ended up spending his career living and visiting this mysterious and sometimes misunderstood place.

Now Katz and wife Ellen Goldberg, a writer and photographer, are leading Jewish-themed tours to the country they love. The next one, named India: My Second Home, runs Jan. 11-23 and will cover five cities.

While there are at least a dozen other Jewish heritage tours to this ancient land, Katz and Goldberg pride themselves in offering something different — an emphasis on the country’s different cultures and faiths and how they have managed to live together for more than a millenium.

“We go to experience the cultures,” Katz said. “When we see monuments, we see both the Jewish and the Indian. We make it a point to meet people.”

Added Goldberg: “We don’t want them to see India from a bus.”

The first full day of the tour, for example, includes a visit to Elephanta Island to learn the origins of Hinduism and Hindu mythology. A couple of days later, the tour stops in Mumbai for Shabbat services and lunch in the city’s synagogue. In Kochi, the tour visits the 16th century Mattacherry Palace of the Raja, who granted Jews land to build their synagogue next to his Hindu temple, and in New Delhi, Katz speaks about the Dalai Lama’s “Jewish secret” in a Tibetan Buddhist temple. In Kolkota, there are stops at the city’s first synagogue and at the Pareshnath Jain Temple, as well as private meetings with Jain leaders to learn about their religious traditions.

Though there are only about 5,000 known Jews in the world’s second-most populous country (about 1.3 billion people), Katz points to the historic acceptance of Jews by the Indian people. “You’re not going to find anti-Semitism there,” he said.

Katz has participated in other tours to India, but he hadn’t led one in more than two decades. When he retired this summer after more than 40 years of teaching, he knew he would continue doing what he loved most — serving as a bridge between Indic and Jewish traditions. The couple’s first two-week tour was in February, and it attracted what Goldberg calls “sophisticated travelers, very seasoned, people who have already visited many other places, gone to Europe and Israel and now are looking for something different.”

India and its Jews certainly offer different. “Each state is a different country, a different culture, a different language,” Goldberg said. “No matter how often we go, there’s always something new to see. There’s always the next place.”

Cindy Lewin and husband Alan of Pinecrest visited India for the first time as part of Katz’s February tour. World travelers, they had decided to go there only with someone who knew it well. Months later, Lewin still calls it “the best trip ever.” She liked meeting people at their homes and learning more about the different cultures and religions.

“Everyone had these fantastic stories about how their families ended up there and why they have stayed there,” Lewin said. “I was particularly impressed how they kept Judaism alive, how hard they had to work at keeping the traditions.”

Carol Millet of Aventura, who also went on the February tour, said she first became interested in India’s Jews after hearing Katz speak at a Books & Books presentation more than 20 years ago. When she read he was starting to lead tours again, she jumped at the chance. Her favorite encounter? Meeting the new rabbi at the Mumbai Cha-bad House, where an Israeli-American Orthodox rabbi and his wife were killed by an Islamic militant group in 2008.

“It was very powerful, very, very emotional for me to see that someone was following in the steps of the murdered rabbi,” Millet said.

As a young college graduate, Katz spent a year in India studying classical languages before returning stateside for graduate studies in religion. He then went back to India in the late 1970s as a Fulbright dissertation fellow, one of many dozen trips and stays in India he would take in the coming years. At the time, Katz said, India “still had the echo of the British.” Over the decades, however, much has changed.

By the time he and Goldberg went in 1980, India was growing into its new identity while also opening itself to other cultures. Now there are several cities with a population of more than 20 million and “America is huge there — clothing, TV, shoes, music, everything,” Katz said.

At FIU, Katz was director of Global Jewish Studies and founding director of the Program in the Study of Spirituality. Author of 15 books, he is considered the world’s leading authority on Indian and East Asian Jewry and was responsible for bringing the Dalai Lama to Miami three times — in 1999, 2004 and 2010. One Indian publication called him “refreshingly different” for his approach to Hindu/Indic studies.

Though he enjoyed teaching, the tours enable him to devote his attention to what he loves most —without having to devote time to “drudgery duties.”

“I really love introducing people to India in this way,” he said, “and that’s what I get to do now.”

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