A Lunch With the Ambassador
(March 9) At a March 5 lunch on, Indian ambassador Sanjeev Singla hosted representatives of Israel’s four Indian Jewish communities: the Bene Israel of India’s west coast, the Cochin Jews of its southern tip, the Baghdadi Jews of Bombay and Calcutta, and the B’nei Menashe of Mizoram and Manipur. Representing the B’nei Menashe was Degel Menashe’s executive director Isaac Thangjom.
The lunch was held at Ambassador Singla’s residence in Herzliya. The guests included deputy ambassador Anitha Nandhini; embassy first secretary Rakhee Mayuri; Joel Malkari, vice-president of the International Organization of Bene Israel; Bombay-born Hebrew University professor Shaul Sapir; Isaac Ashkenazi, like Sapir from a Baghdadi background but born in Calcutta; and Tzipora Meir, Tirtza Lavi, and Shulamit Kedar, all from families hailing from Cochin.
The lunch began with Ambassador Singla soliciting ideas from the guests for the new Indian Cultural Center recently opened in Tel Aviv. Although it has gotten off to a slow start due to the limitations imposed by the Corona epidemic, it now hopes to move into higher gear. Suggestions were made for a wide variety of activities, from yoga and classical Indian dance classes to courses in Indian languages and Ayurvedic medicine.
Another subject raised by the ambassador was the embassy’s Know India Program, which has so far failed to attract many participants despite the large number of Israeli tourists who visit India every year. A proposal was made to add to it a “Roots” dimension whereby young Israelis of Indian ancestry would be aided in exploring their heritage and families’ pasts. Such a program would target post-army youth, which traditionally backpacks all over the world after its conclusion of military service.
On behalf of Degel Menashe, Executive Director Thangjom presented Ambassador Singla with a framed picture of B’nei Menashe children taken by photographer Dorit Lombroso. He also reported on Degel Menashe’s various educational and cultural programs, dwelling especially on its Oral History Project, which will culminate this spring with the publication of Lives of the Children of Manasia, a book of twelve extended oral history interviews with elderly members of the B’nei Menashe community in Israel. Ambassor Singla expressed great interest in the book and spoke of making it a central feature of the joint 75 th \-year Israel-India independence celebrations that are planned for 2022. He also promised to lend the embassy’s support to Degel Menashe’s musicology project, which, in collaboration with the Hebrew University, is dedicated to the collection and preservation of old B’nei Menashe music. Temporarily stalled by the pandemic, too, this program, Thangjom told the ambassador, is about to be given new impetus. Ambassador Singla pledged to do all he could to help.