Our Jewish Bollywood Love Story: How this JSC Fellow discovered her home thousands of miles away
By Kimberly Duenas (JSC Fellow, Mumbai, 2013-2015)

Just like other love stories, it is appropriate to begin ours with ‘once upon a time.’ But unlike others, I should probably say, ‘once upon a time in India, an American girl in the Jewish Service Corps met an Indian guy at a Shabbat dinner in Mumbai’. That’s more like it!

Our unique story began in 2013 when I accepted the once in a lifetime opportunity to be an Entwine Jewish Service Corps Fellow. I had no idea how the experience would change my life in so many profound ways. It was a passion for Jewish community building and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) that ultimately led me to India, and at that point had no idea that someone in Mumbai shared that same enthusiasm that I did, and so much more.

Shay Birwadkar, who was born and raised in Mumbai, was an active member of the Jewish Community Center’s young adult movement, the Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP), and would regularly interact with the JSC Fellows to plan events for the young community. And this is where it all began…

 I can remember the day I landed in India so clearly. After a 16-hour flight, I picked up my luggage and approached the door leading to a new world, a hustling and bustling, vibrant city that I had never seen before.  On the ride to the hotel where I would be staying for a couple nights, I looked curiously through the window at what would be my new home in a dreamlike state. I felt exhilarated, a little nervous, and definitely jet-lagged. Just one hour after arriving, I was formally welcomed to India by the excited JSC Fellow who brought me to Shabbat dinner at what would be my future apartment. It was there where Shay and I met for the very first time.

 Typically, in Bollywood movies when two people experience love at first sight, the scene is set by ethereal music, bright decorations, and a cast of back up dancers. In our unexpected encounter, the sound of Mumbai streets, twinkling Shabbat candles, and a crowd of cool young Indian Jews created the same enchanting effect. Our friendship began there, and it wasn’t long before we started spending time together consistently.

I felt that not only were Shay and I destined to meet, but that I was meant to be connected to Indian culture and specifically to the Jewish community. I couldn’t possible have imagined the warm and caring welcome I received from everyone I met as I embraced the world around me. Planning classes and events for the Jewish community was an incredibly meaningful experience in that I was the student just as much (if not more) as I was a teacher.

Soon, my one year of service turned into a two-year stay in my now second home. And after two years of so much growth, learning, love and color, Shay and I were ready to take the next step in our relationship. With the blessings of our families, we became engaged in the most fitting way – on the final day of my JSC Mid-Year Seminar, in front of the Kotel.

The subsequent months seemed to fly by and before we knew it, the end of my placement was approaching. After two years in Mumbai, we made the decision to move back to my native California together. Though it was heartbreaking for me to leave the community, and though it would be Shay’s first time living outside of India, we took comfort in the fact that we would be embarking on this new adventure together.

On New Years Eve, Shay and I had a small family wedding in California- 'Part One' of our wedding celebrations - and are planning to celebrate our marriage 'Part Two' in Mumbai in a couple short years with the Jewish community and all our family and friends. Although our California wedding was many miles away, we made sure to infuse as much India as possible as you’ll see from the photos!

We should thank the JDC for bringing us together and playing an instrumental role in our Bollywood love story! We feel so blessed to have been brought together through the bridge of the global Jewish community and we pray that we continue to find ways to contribute to our Jewish communities, wherever we are.

And are living happily ever after… 

Written By

February 25, 2016 at 5:06 PM



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