Mayan Sanker was one of the only Jews left in Mumbai, and now in Israel, she's often the first and only Indian person Israelis have ever met. But Sanker, who is a teacher and a dancer, waltzes into people's hearts with her Bollywood dance moves, wherever she goes — as the children of Petah Tikva can attest to.
Sanker, 20, came to Israel to teach English with the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program (MITF); she loves the children's boisterous energy, despite being used to very disciplined Indian students, and says she adores everything about the country, including the bluntness and noisiness of her students and of Israelis in general.
"Israelis say what they think, I like that… sometimes I do encounter rudeness, however," says the young teacher.
"I often get asked, 'why did you come to teach here?' and I answer that these energies (of children) need to be channeled the right way."
And the right way to teach English, according to Sanker, is the Bollywood way.
"Bollywood dancing started in the 80's and are now big in Mumbai," she says. "Dancing is my passion and teaching gives me joy… I try to combine both in hope it can become big, so that all schools can use the concept I've developed."
Sanker's parents and two sisters are back in India, where she is part of a very small Jewish community.
The young teacher says that Indians are often surprised to find out she is Jewish, having never met any others.
Some are even surprised to discover such a religion exists. In Israel, on the other hand, many are unaware that Indian Jewry exists.
"In India, I'm always the only Jew around, the only one in my school… I feel blessed to be Jewish," she says.
"We all love being Jewish and are proud of it. We go to the synagogue on holidays and events, but I've recently read that it's becoming more and more difficult to complete a minyan (the minimal number of men to hold a prayer – 10) since people are all leaving for Israel," Sanker says.
After a year of devoting herself to the children of Petah Tikva, Sanker will soon make her way back to her family in India, but says that despite how much she misses them, she "feels much more at home in Israel."
"I love Israel, and honestly, I've always told my parents that I want to go to Israel. When I'm here, I feel like I'm living up to my dream," Sanker says.
Every year, hundreds of teachers from English speaking countries like Sanker come to Israel as part of Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program, a joint effort by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government.
All have academic degrees and go through a training program to get to know the Israeli education system, and then teach English to Israeli school children.