Photographer Rachel Beck in India visiting the children's village from which she was adopted. (Courtesy of Rachel Beck)

Weaving Together An Authentic Indian Jewish Life

An Indian orphan finds a home in a Jewish family and community

Whether walking into my favorite Jewish deli in Boca Raton, or curled up in a booth smelling curry and chicken tikka masala in my favorite Indian restaurant, I am home. I am a foodie, and I am blessed to have two heritages: Indian and Jewish.  

I was adopted from India by a white Jewish family. Figuring out that I was Indian occurred at an early age. I noticed that in other families, all the members looked alike, but I did not resemble mine. I asked my mom questions about our differences and she provided some answers. But I remained curious about my Indian heritage.  

Learning I was Jewish was easy because it was such a part of my life growing up. It was the only religion that I knew. My parents enrolled me and my brothers, who came into the family biologically, in a Solomon Schechter day school in Pennsylvania. This was the 80’s, and there were not as many diverse families as there are now. I was the only Indian child in the school. I am not even sure if there were other children with a diverse background. Even though I was brown in a sea of white, I never ever felt different at all. We were all Jewish and never once did I feel like I stood out.

No one was rude and asked questions like, “What are you?” or “Why is your family white and you are brown?” It was the most loving environment for me. The education was beyond incredible. The teachers were nurturing and caring. Still to this day, I can see their smiles. They weren’t there to just collect a paycheck; they were there to inspire children, and to make a difference in a child’s life.

As a child who stood out everywhere else, Solomon Schechter was a place where I could be me. More important was that the school accepted me. I am grateful for that. Why? Because when I switched to public school, and I didn’t fit anywhere, I would close my eyes and remember the good memories of my elementary school.

Judaism was and is what I am supposed to be part of. That I do not question at all. It’s the core values of Judaism that I relate to. And I would say I structure my life with these values. I just realized that. I did not go out to live my life that way, but I just realized the beliefs were in instilled within, through my Jewish private school and through my parents.  

Just as I am proud to be an American and a Jew, being Indian is something that I am deeply proud of. But I did not start exploring my roots till I was about 18. This fall, I will be releasing a book about my journey: the Jewish, the American, and the Indian pieces.

Today, I make frequent trips to India. With every trip, my soul becomes recharged. When I land in India, I take a deep breath. The breath is to say you are home. It’s a spiritual awakening for me on so many levels. India is in my heart and soul and always will be.

In India, I have connected with the children’s village for orphans and the elderly from which I was adopted. I work to raise money for them and to engage with the children there. I know that the adults who run the village, like the teachers at my Jewish day school, love the children there and want to nourish them just as I was nourished as a child.

Most people don’t think of pastrami and curry going together on one plate. But I’m here to tell you that being fully Jewish and fully Indian is the most natural way I could be.

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