Embassy Calls For Umbrella Organization Of Indian Jews

(February 24) At a meeting held this week at the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv and attended by some 30 representatives of Israel’s four communities of Indian Jews and their descendants, embassy officials called on them to unite in a single roof organization. The four communities are the Bene Israel, who were, historically, concentrated along India’s west coast; the Cochin Jews, who hailed from the subcontinent’s southern tip; the Baghdadi Jews, once mostly residents of Bombay and Calcutta; and northeast India’s B’nei Menashe, who have in recent years gained increasing recognition from the other groups as a part of Indian Jewry.

Although efforts to unite all Jews of Indian origin in Israel have been made in the past, none has come to fruition. The most recent attempt was in 2018, when a proposed “National Convention of Indian Jews” was launched in the city of Ashkelon. Lack of effective leadership and the Covid pandemic were equal factors in its failure to strike roots.

This week’s meeting, convened, by Pawan K. Pal, the Indian embassy’s Second Secretary in charge of Public Diplomacy, took place within the framework of the embassy’s year-long celebration of two milestones: the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Indo-Israel ties and the marking of India and Israel’s 75th years of independence. Forming the B’nei Menashe delegation were Jessica Thangjom, a board member of the Indian Jewish Heritage Center; Yitzhak Thangjom, executive director of Degel Menashe; and three younger members of the community, Ronia Lunkhel, Yael Lunkhel, and Yosef Naite.

After welcoming remarks by Rajiv Bodwade, the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, embassy Counselor Dinesh Udenia spoke of the embassy’s desire to engage all Israelis of Indian origin in its activities.

Mr. Pawan K. Pal, Public Diplomacy, speaking to delegates

Besides expanding existing undertakings, such as the Know India program, which is similar to the Jewish Agency’s Birthright program, and scholarships for study in Indian Universities, the embassy, Udenia told the gathering, would like to get Israel’s Indian Jewish population, and especially its younger generation, to take a greater interest in its roots and pursue matters of common interest. This could best be done, he said, if it could unite in a single body that that would set an agenda and propose ways of implementing it. .

A lively discussion among the participants followed. It was agreed that the National Convention for Indian Jews should be revived as the best possible platform for achieving these objectives and that an annual day should be set aside for the celebration of the Indian Jewish heritage. After various alternatives were considered, it was decided that sometime during the eight-day autumn holiday of Succot would be the most appropriate time for such an event. Mr. Beni Walter suggested the city of Lod near Tel Aviv as a venue for the celebration and told the gathering that the municipality would be willing to make its facilities and services available for it. In their concluding remarks, the Indian diplomat reiterated their intention of standing behind such initiatives. And Ronia Lunkhel spoke for the younger B’nei Menashe delegates when she said, “The desire to transmit the Indian heritage to my generation was impressive. It was an interesting and enriching event.”