Malida, a Tu B’shvat Ritual Unique to Indian Jews, Explained | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Malida, a Tu B’shvat Ritual Unique to Indian Jews, Explained

Hadassah Pezarker celebrates Tu B'shvat with a Malida celebration (Via My Jewish Learning/Jewish&)

Ancient Malida offering adds meaning and global connection to New Year of the Trees

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This piece was orginally published on My Jewish Learning/JEWISH& 

As Jews around the world look forward to celebrating Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the trees, Indian Jews are hoping that their unique Malida ritual will be embraced across the globe. 

In addition to being a celebration of nature, the potential of spring and the connection to the agricultural cycles in the land of Israel, the holiday of Tu B’shvat holds special meaning for Indian Jews. According to legend, it is on this day that seven Jewish men and seven Jewish women from ancient Israel were shipwrecked off the coast of ancient India. Fearing for their lives, the 14 survivors prayed to Elijah the prophet, Eliyahu, and were saved. In memory and thanksgiving, Indian Jews mark Tu B’shvat with a Malida ceremony and special prayers to Eliyahu.

Hadassah Pezarker is an Israeli-Indian, born and raised in Ashdod and who now lives in Tel Aviv. One of a new generation of Indian-Israelis who are working to advance, record and preserve the history of Indian immigration and culture, this year, Pezarker and her fellow activists achieved an important victory. “We were able to introduce the Tu B’shvat Malida as a part of the curriculum of Israeli ministry of education and a nationally recognized holiday.” This change will help ensure that this beautiful custom gains understanding and popularity.

The Melida ceremony is not exclusive to Tu B’shvat. According to Rabbi Romiel Daniel, an Indian-American Jew, the term Malida comes from the Persian word for confection. According to Pezarker, the term means to mix. They both agree that it is a ceremony of thanksgiving and joy, gratitude and hope.

The Malida ceremony includes a series of prayers some of which are offered in honor Elijah, Eliyahu HaBavi, as Indian Jews pronounce it, others in honor of our ancestors and others in thanksgiving. “Any time there is an auspicious occasion, a new baby, a new house, a marriage or improved health, we do a Malida. Eliyahu is a protector of the individual and the community. He never died, he was just taken away. He is the protector of any happy occasion and guards against the evil eye.” 

According to Daniel, who is the Rabbi of the Rego Park Jewish Center in New York, the format and prayers of the Malida did not become fixed until the late 18th century. According to Indian Jewish tradition, Elijah ascended in his chariot to heaven from India. Proof of this miracle can be found in India on a rock where the skid marks of his chariot and the hoof marks of his horse can be seen to this day.

 

 

After prayers are offered, members of the community are invited to eat from the Malida offering. Pezarker explains that the Malida offering has been passed down through the generations. Sweetened dried rice mixed with fruits, nuts, and aromatics is piled high in the center of a round plate. The shape of the rice is meant to represent Mt. Sinai. According to some sources, the origins of this offering harken back to the offerings made in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in days of old. Other sources suggest that this offering draws from the customs of Indians adapted to Jewish sensibilities. No matter its origins, commonly five different pieces of different fruits are then placed around the base of the rice mountain. Rabbi Daniel notes that some people put seven fruits. After the traditional food blessings are offered, participants are invited eat from the Malida and the fruits.

While a Malida ceremony can take place at any time they are particularly common and broadly attended at Tu B’shvat and both Pezarker and Daniel are hoping others join them for the holiday celebration this year. In celebration of the broader recognition of the holiday by the Israeli government, Pezarker is encouraging Jews around the world to “join us in simultaneous celebration in Israel and around the globe. We are inviting the public and members of the community to take part and have a “Tu Bishvat Malida” on Feb 10, 2020 in their community and join other Malida ceremonies already underway [such as that taking place at the Rego Park Jewish Center]. And upload videos or photos to Facebook using the hashtag #Malida2020.”

Malida — Sweetened Poha Recipe




Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.

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