Around the Diaspora in Three Hours: Jews in India

Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia

Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia

…okay, so a barely clever word steal from Jules Verne. 😛 I have my fun where I can.

I’ve been waiting a long time for this Jewish Study Center class on Jews in India, I have. Back in March, my check was refunded when the class was unexpectedly cancelled. So a little scheduling mishap on Wednesday night didn’t deter me. Oh well, we started at 8 rather than 7 (followed, for me, by a long Metro ride out of the city from Adas Israel.) It was still highly informative!

The discussion was led by Nissim Reuben, a Bene Israel who worked for the American Jewish Committee on Indian-Jewish-U.S. relations. As a jumping point, we watched the 40-minute documentary Salaam, Shalom: The Jews of India.

As we flitted back and forth between Jewish communities in southeast Asia, we learned of the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews, the Baghdadi Jews, and the (unmentioned on the map) Bene Menashe. Most of these groups had long-seated history in India, and interviewees spoke of being at ease with their Hindu and Muslim neighbors. But when the State of Israel was declared in 1948, most of them followed their religious convictions to make aliyah. There are now only 5,000 Jews left in India, with 80,000 of Indian descent in Israel, according to Reuben.

After the film ended, our small but dedicated class asked questions along the lines of the difficulties of immigrating, and Reuben talked at length about the diversity in Israeli Jewish life and how Indian Jews are trying to find that line between keeping their traditions and assimilating to the larger culture. He said that Indian Jews often look to American Jews as a paradigm of how to be successful in a different culture, and he also talked about the importance of keeping a Jewish community alive in Diaspora.

The terrorist attack against a Chabad Center in Mumbai last year, which was carried out by Pakistani nationals, did not factor as much into our conversation as the strong relationship between India and Israel. Basically, it was a nice, relaxing evening in which to feel connected to fellow democracies and fellow Jews. And I definitely recommend the documentary to anyone who can get their hands on it!

For more information on Jewish communities in unlikely places, check out Scattered Among the Nations featuring info on Jews who live outside of Israel, western Europe and the U.S.

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