Tag Archives: Jewish

The Magnes Collection Documents Jewish Art & Life From India

(Featured Image: Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children. Collected in Kochi, Kerala, India. Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew square script)
Hanukkah, celebrated by the Jewish community, resonates very closely with Diwali, the Festival of Lights celebrated by Indics around the world. Triumph over darkness & pursuit of knowledge over ignorance. Hanukkah observance is starting today, December 10th, and will continue for 9 nights. 
At India Currents, we celebrate diversity and inclusion, we’re marking the occasion with a piece on Jewish history from India. Jewish people in India and how their objects traveled around the world chronicle a sense of solidarity between India and Israel. We see it manifesting in friendship between the diaspora in California! We’ve come a long way. Scroll to the bottom to see the video of the Commonwealth SF event on this topic moderated by IC Ambassador, Somanjana Chatterjee.

Since becoming part of the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life has embarked in a multi-year project aimed at unveiling its extensive holdings that document the history of the Jewish community in Kerala, South India, one of the oldest in the world. The collection includes over 1500 items, which are being catalogued, digitally photographed, and displayed in rotating exhibitions.  

Thanks to a dynamic collecting campaign initiated in 1967 by the late Seymour Fromer (1922-2009), in conjunction with Rabbi Bernard Kimmel (1922-1991) and scores of volunteers, The Magnes became one of the world’s most extensive repositories of materials about the Jews of Southern India, taking on an important role in the preservation of their culture alongside the historic Jewish sites in the State of Kerala, as well as national and private collections in Israel, where most of the Kerala Jews settled after the founding of the State in 1948. 

These efforts are by no means the only connection between Kerala and Berkeley. David Mandelbaum (1911-1987), Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley (1946-1978), visited Kerala in 1937 and published a seminal scholarly article about its Jewish community two years later. Walter Fischel (1902-1973), Professor of Semitic Languages and Literature at UC Berkeley (1945-1970) and an authority on the history and culture of the Jewish communities in India, was the only North American scholar invited by the State of Kerala to take part in the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Paradesi synagogue in 1968. 

Torah Ark of the Tekkumbhagam synagogue (Mattancherry)
Kochi, Kerala, India, 17th-18th centuries

The complete collection housed at The Magnes includes hundreds of ritual objects, textiles, photographs, archival documents, books, manuscripts, liturgical texts, illustrated ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts), and amulets in Hebrew, Aramaic, Malayalam, Judeo-Spanish, and English. These materials constitute an invaluable source of information on the Kerala Jewish community and its deep connections with India’s society and cultures while also reflecting the global Jewish Diaspora across India, the Middle East, and Europe. Among its most notable items are the Torah Ark from the Tekkumbhagam synagogue in Mattancherry, Kochi, an extremely rare amulet on parchment designed to protect newborn children as well as women in childbirth, and the diaries of Abraham Barak Salem (1882–1967), a lawyer and politician active in the causes of Indian independence and Zionism, and one of the most prominent Cochin Jews of the twentieth century, which provide a vivid account of Jewish life in Kochi throughout the 20th century. 

This project builds on years of curatorial work devoted to assessing and documenting the holdings of The Magnes, in collaboration with experts in Israel and the US. Its aim is to place these important holdings of The Magnes on the global map that historically connects Kerala, Israel, and Berkeley, inaugurating new season of research engagement with the scholarly community at UC Berkeley and beyond, and highlighting an important intersection between Jewish and Asian Studies.

Dr. Francesco Spagnolo is an Associate Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley and the Curator, of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

A Jewish Woman’s Encounter with Kundalini

By Dani Antman

Growing up, I had an ambivalent relationship to Judaism. The religious services I attended never inspired me, and when I started my search for a spiritual path, I turned to the teachings of Yoga. Later, when I discovered Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, my interest in my own religion was rekindled.

The Kabbalistic teachings immediately spoke to my soul and felt familiar. They awoke in me a hidden love, the desire to explore the nature of God, reality, suffering, and spiritual awakening.

I was astonished to find everything within my own tradition that I had looked for in Yoga: meditation, spiritual philosophy, chanting, and self-inquiry.

After many years of studying Kabbalah and working as a Kabbalistic healer, teacher, I found myself feeling burned out, physically exhausted, and spiritually uninspired. I had all the outer trappings of success: a steady stream of clients, a new house and a great community. However, I knew something wasn’t right – I had hit a plateau, and I wasn’t finding the help I sought from my teacher. The thought of leaving my spiritual community terrified me, yet I yearned for spiritual guidance more than the comfort of my current position.

One night I prayed for help, asking for a teacher who could lead me to self-realization. My prayers were answered just a few weeks later, when I serendipitously met a realized Swami from Rishikesh, India. His name was Swami Chandrasekharanand Saraswati, and he was a lineage holder in Kundalini Science, the knowledge of the divine feminine force of awakening, called Kundalini.

According to this lineage, Kundalini is not energy, or sexual energy. Kundalini is “supreme grace and love, the life of the life force, self-illuminating, the principle of sound, pure joy and bliss.” It is the Divine presence within every human being, the force behind all spiritual paths, that when awakened, leads to self-realization. Contrary to popular belief, it is not dangerous when awakened in a safe manner, under the guidance of a qualified teacher.

Imagine my surprise when my teacher told me that I had a challenging Kundalini rising due to a Jewish past life in which I had had a tragic fall from grace. He attributed my fatigue and burnout to a weakened energy system, and under his spiritual direction, I received yogic practices combined with Hebrew names of God, which healed and repaired my subtle body. As I did my practices, I had profound inner experiences that connected me back to my Jewish lineage. I discovered that every spiritual tradition has its inner and often hidden methods of preparing the seeker to be a fit vehicle for self-realization. This is how we are all Wired for God.

During a twelve-year period, I experienced a wild and intense renovation of my whole being through my dedication to my spiritual practice. I healed my fatigue, as well as my ambivalent relationship to Judaism, and experienced the Tree of Life within me as a roadmap to higher consciousness. My practices culminated in an opening to the great Vastness, the primordial ground of being that underlies all spiritual paths.

I wrote Wired for God, Adventures of a Jewish Yogi, because I hope my story will serve as a gentle guide for both Jewish and non-Jewish spiritual seekers. Like many seekers, I have encountered many challenges on the spiritual path: a healing crisis, misplaced trust, loss, and divorce – which fueled my search for a spiritual path. My message: Don’t give up on the spiritual path, until you find what you are truly seeking!

I wrote my book to give inspiration to all sincere seekers looking to make real spiritual progress and find their own unique spiritual path.

Dani Antman is an internationally known energy healer and interfaith minister in Santa Barbara, CA. She has been at the forefront of energy medicine and healing since 1992, when she graduated from the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. She was a senior teacher at The School for Nondual Healing and Awakening (A Society of Souls) for over nine years. She is dedicated to helping others on their spiritual path. Her book, Wired for God, Adventures of a Jewish Yogi is available on Amazon.com  Pick up you copy today on Amazon here