Friday, June 20, 2003

the indian Jews

I first heard about Indian Jews in Israel from an Australian post-doc who used to work here in Sede Boqer. He was a total cricket fanatic- he even played at the Israeli National level. He mentioned one day that the towns of Beer Sheva, Dimona and Yerucham are home to many jews from india who emigrated in 1947 and later in 1962 and that they play cricket regularly. When i visited these towns, i could see signs that there were indians around (such as a national flag or the inevitable spice shop), but since i was just passing through i never really met anyone. And then one day, some movie makers decided to make a film about cricket in the 50's and the competition between indians and moroccan immigrrants in dimona. Of course, they decided to shoot it in Sede Boqer (which is as un-Dimona like as possible, but has a great view fora backdrop), which provided instant entertainment for all us poor desert dwellers. Some students even got roles as extras in the film. They constructed huge sets (which looked better than some of the places we live in :)) and since it was about indians and cricket, they got a whole variety of people from Dimona etc, along with ancient cars and trucks. I don't remember the name of the movie but it was rumoured to be one of Israel's bigger productions. I met some of the cricket players and they actually invited me over to a game but something came up and i never pursued it.

But the story of the Indian Jews is not entirely a happy one. They were sufficiently persecuted in India, but mostly by the invading colonial countries. And then the israeli govt refused to accept their Jewishness for a very long time. Long time fears are even now surfacing once again, with DNA testing becoming more commonly used to detect Jewishness. There was an article i read about the decline in Jewish population in India, especially in Cochin, after the migrations to Israel. The Synagogue there is said to be one of the finest, but now is hardly being used, except on holidays and sabbath.

But there seems to be sufficient clues to indicate that Judaism is alive and well, nevertheless. Which sounds good to me. India has this long standing image of being tolerant, despite major hiccups, and i hope that India can be considered as a "safe place" by Jews. By israelis anyway, every fourth person i meet seems to have been to India.