This year, I moved into an apartment with a diverse group of individuals. Two of them, Yash Joshi and Rahul Vasandani, are childhood friends from Mumbai, India. Both of these Mumbaikars are Hindu, although Yash considers himself more religious than Rahul. Upon befriending them, they told me I was one of the first Jews they had met and the first Jew they have befriended. This astonished me as I have lived in both Israel and Los Angeles, where Jews are ubiquitous. They soon became curious about where I was running off to every Friday evening. One Friday morning, they heard me humming “Shalom Aleichem,” and their eyes lit up as if I just hummed the next Top 40 hit. I taught them the traditional Shabbat song and eventually, I invited them to come to Kabbalat Shabbat, to which they happily agreed under the condition that they would hear “Shalom Aleichem” being sung. Here is their take on Shabbat at Hillel:
Natanel Almany: Why did you decide to come to Shabbat?
Rahul Vasandani: I wanted to experience how you guys manifest your traditions and also to sing “Shalom Aleichem” — but I was disappointed when I didn’t recognize it.
Yash Joshi: I decided to come because I’ve never met a Jewish person before, and it was my first opportunity to experience Judaism.
How did you feel about being surrounded by a culture different than yours?
RV: I felt different, but I felt comfortable. It wasn’t weird, and I actually felt like I was part of the culture.
YJ: I had a feeling of comfort because the people around me didn’t make me feel obligated to do anything, nor did it feel like they had an agenda to change my personal views.
What did you think of the prayers and rituals?
RV: It felt different because I’m not religious, and praying after a long time felt really good. Some of the rituals seem similar to my own culture’s traditions, so I didn’t feel like it was strange.
YJ: I don’t know the meaning of most of the prayers, but I could see the positive energy that was generated on everyone’s face.
What did you think of the people you interacted with?
RV: First of all, I was surprised to see Martin Luther, a PhD student from Hong Kong, speaking Hebrew perfectly and following the traditions. The girls were very good-looking and the people were generally very friendly. The cutest part was the little girl that was handing out plates saying “Shabbat Shalom!” to everyone.
YJ: The people there were pretty humble and welcoming. I spoke to an Israeli girl about how I’m not Jewish, and she was very attentive and patient about explaining a little bit about the religion and hearing about mine.
Do you find any similarities between Hinduism and Judaism?
RV: The hand washing ritual Netilat Yada’im and the good food.
Y: Yes, the gathering of people is similar, but I like how in Judaism, Shabbat is every week.
What was your favorite part about Shabbat?
R: I can say it in two words: happiness and positivity.
Y: I love the concept that everyone gathers every Friday, and even all the people that are busy throughout the work week set time aside to meet every Friday. I believe this is a sign of unity among Jewish people.
Would you come to Shabbat again?
Y: See you next Friday!
Rahul and Yash found Shabbat to be a universal holiday that everyone can celebrate, and the warm welcome given at Hillel has truly given them a positive outlook on Jewish hospitality. Although the song “Shalom Aleichem” wasn’t what they were expecting, I was truly pleased to see how engaged they were in our weekly tradition, and how someone not familiar with the Jewish traditions was able to recognize our unity.