Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hebrew-Arabic Calligraphy from God's Own Country

I have a new article up on Thoufeek Zakriya's calligraphy in the HuffPo, including a great slide show in the article. Usually I am terrified by comment sections on websites, but there are some really the positive notes that people left.

Hebrew-Arabic Calligraphy in God's Own Country

Down in the heart of "God's Own Country," as the Indian state of Kerala is affectionately known, an Indian Muslim calligrapher is using his skills in the art of the ink flourishes to bridge Jewish and Muslim communities. Thoufeek Zakriya is an Indian Muslim from the city of Cochin who does calligraphy in a number of languages, including Arabic, Samaritan, Syriac and Sanskrit. More interestingly, he is a Muslim who does masterful Hebrew calligraphy.

While studying in madrasa, he learned that the Jewish people were considered by Islam to be ahl al-kitab ("People of the Book"), which sparked a curiosity in him to learn more about this religious community. His curiosity led him to find a copy of the Gideon's Bible, which had a page with prayers in 23 different languages. He decided to find what encompassed the Hebrew word for God, so using the page as his "Rosetta Stone" he was able to decipher what letters entailed the Hebrew name for the Lord.

Thoufeek became more interested in Judaism and Hebrew calligraphy, and reached out to the tiny yet historic Jewish community in Cochin. Thoufeek purchased some Hebrew texts he found at a streetside book shop and he went about learning the Hebrew alphabet. His studies in Hebrew led him to begin crafting calligraphy of Jewish prayers such as the Birkat haBayit (prayer for the home) in golden resplendent brilliance.

Thofeek even began creating calligraphic replicas of the Torah.

More importantly, Thoufeek does something very unique: he has crafted Hebrew calligraphy in the ancient Kufic Arabic script.  Such work is a rarity in the calligraphic world, and his innovations in the Kufic/Hebrew calligraphy has brought Thoufeek accolades from admirers from all over the world. Zakriya has been commissioned as far away as Ukraine and the United States to create works that combine Arabic calligraphy with Jewish prayers.

Thoufeek's work and his dedication to study Jewish history and culture led to a close friendship between him and Cochin's Jewish community, including his warm friendship with the community's matriarch Sarah Cohen. Cohen has hosted Thoufeek for Passover seders and other Jewish holiday celebrations.

I met Thoufeek at Sarah Cohen's embroidery shop, where she stitches yarmulkes and other Jewish-Indian embroideries. As we sat sipping tea and eating watermelon squares and black helwa (sweets), she remarked that she considers him to be like a grandson and a real mensch.

Thoufeek Zakriya is a wonderful symbol of India's legendary tolerance for religious communities. "At a time when Jews and Muslims are sadly seen as natural adversaries, Thoufeek's Hebrew calligraphy emerges as yet another example of Muslim-Jewish amity from India," says Dr. Navras Aafredi, an Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities & Social Sciences at Gautam Buddha University. Professor Aafredi studies Jewish communities of India, and noted that Zakriya is the only known Muslim Hebrew calligrapher in India.

"Thoufeek's work shows us that the way to peace is through the exploration of each other's culture and the commonalities between them," says Dr. Aafredi, "His work is a reminder of the shared cultural and religious heritage of Jews and Muslims, which definitely needs to be brought into sharper focus in such a manner that it overshadows the disputes, conflicts and differences."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Talmud Business Hotel

Yes, there is really a hotel in Taiwan called the Talmud Business Hotel, check out the description:
Talmud Business Hotel Taichung is a Business hotel that is named after a holy book contains a collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish law and traditions. The word Talmud has the following meanings: “Instruction, Learning, Teach and Study”. Inspired by the Talmud theory, the owner uses red interior to add a splash of fashion and professionalism. In each room, there’s also a copy of “Talmud-Business Success Bible” for anyone who would like to experience the Talmud way of becoming successful.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jewish PR

There was an interesting article in the Jpost about Jewish Ricans, and Jewish Puerto Rican cuisine.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Jews of Taiwan

On the sweet potato-shaped island of Taiwan, there is a small but established and functioning Jewish community.  The community started to take root on ihla Formosa in the 1950s with the U.S. military presence that was based on the island.  The present community began to take shape in the 1970s as the Asian Tiger’s growing economy brought international entrepreneurs to its shores. 

Today, the Jewish community is overwhelmingly found in Taipei, and meets on a weekly basis at the Sheraton Hotel. After fighting through the daily foreignness of life in Taiwan, there is a comforting feeling to coming entering the suite that doubles as the synagogue and entering a decidedly Jewish world.  The golden-hued synagogue room is filled with books of Jewish learning, and pictures of Jewish life.   

If you are in Taipei and plan on attending services, be sure to bring your business cards.  The rabbi of the community, Rabbi E.F. Einhorn, will request it and respond with a plethora of his own cards.  The grandfatherly Rabbi Einhorn leads the traditional services in a pleasant, meandering manner.  He directs the services, and offers a weekly sermon reading, often a passage from the words of his favorite sage, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.  After the services conclude, the congregants go around to introduce themselves and mention from where they hail.  The services conclude with kiddush of the sweet wine, and delicious fluffy challah and honey.  After eating heaps of rice all week, there is nothing better than some good soft challah.

There is a regular weekly congregation for Sabbath services that stands at a dozen to twenty persons.  For the high holidays, the congregation swelled to more than 60 people.  I spent the high-holidays in Taiwan, for a pleasant series of services that packed the little synagogue to the brim. 

The congregants are a mix of Americans, Canadians, Israelis, Russians and all other diasporic assortments.  Congregants range from businessmen to students learning Chinese to those traveling in the region and looking for a little Sabbath welcome. 

There are also a number of Taiwanese who attend the services. “Made in Taiwan,” as Rabbi Einhorn says.   Those like Tony Lin, who while living in San Francisco became interested in Judaism and now studies the faith, or Grace, whose grandfather was Jewish and she is reconnecting with the faith.  Some come because of their connection with Israel like Daniel Hu, who spent time researching at the Technion in Israel, or Anna Shen— the press officer at Israel Economic and Cultural Office (ISECO), the Jewish State’s de facto embassy.

Interestingly, there is even a holocaust museum in the central city of Tainan, run by a Taiwanese priest named Chou Chou An of Messianic Jewish extraction.  There is also a burgeoning Christian population in Taiwan.  I met a number of Taiwanese Christians who said with fervor that they pray for Israel.  Unfortunately, Israel is one of the many countries that do not recognize Taiwan.  Recognized by only 23 countries, most being small, poor and on the fringes of international society, Taiwan faces greater diplomatic isolation than the Jewish state.  With nearly a million Christians in Taiwan, and given the island’s affluence, Taiwan would be a ripe market for tourism to Israel and a receptive audience for cultural diplomacy.

Although small, the Jewish community of Taiwan remains a pearl in the crown of the Jewish communities of Asia.

PS: I received a note from Shlomi that there is another synagogue in Taiwan at the new Taipei Jewish Center
Kosher food is also available there.

Thanks for letting me know, Shlomi.

Monday, November 22, 2010

E-Bar Mitzvahs, Indonesian tolerance

Brilliant piece on brilliant tutoring for Bar Mitzvahs online. Toda Harry.

As I sit in a cafe in Jakarta, speaking with an Indonesian Christian and Muslim about how we are all children of God, I find an article on a Jewish community in Indonesia.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No wonder he signed with NY

NBA star Amar'e Stoudemire is Jewish::
The former NBA Rookie of the Year and current New York Knick recently disclosed that his mother was Jewish, and has publicly embraced his roots – peppering his Twitter updates with Hebrew and now visiting the country with his girlfriend Alexis.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hava Nagilah

Check out this cute video on the origins and meaning of Hava Nagilah:

Hava Nagilah, What Is It? from Katahdin Productions on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010


There is an article about my uncle in the website for his synagogue.