From India to Israel, identity, immigration, and the struggle for religious equality, book,

Bene Israel; from India to Israel again

Book Name:
From India to Israel : Identity, Immigration, and the Struggle for Religious Equality
Author:
Joseph Hodes

Travelling a distance of 4540 kilometers from the Dominion of India to the newly created state of Israel after its creation eight decades ago was certainly motivated by a cause. 

In just three years from 1948 to 1951, the number of Jewish immigrants who migrated to this new state was 0.7 million across the globe.

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It was common for them to face hurdles and hardships in this newborn country that had neither water nor any other basic amenities of life for its citizens who had left their cosy and settled lives in other parts of the world for their Jewish cause, the establishment of a Jewish state. 

The Indian Jews known as the Bene Israel or the Sons of Israel are one of the Ten lost tribes who fled Judea during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175 – 164 BC) from persecution. 

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Bene Israel; from India to Israel again

Today the population of Indian-origin Bene Israel in the state of Israel is approximately 78000 out of a total 9 million population of Israel.  According to the Jewish immigrantโ€™s records of the state of Israel, from 1948 to 1960, nearly 8000 Bene Israel migrated to this new state. 

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This book uses the case study of these Indian Bene Israel to explore the themes of, migration, state-building, and societal amalgamation with their other religious fellows and the resultant social, political, economic and even religious discrimination from their religious compatriots in the state of Israel. 

1. The first chapter traces the origin history, and arrival of these Bene Israel on the Indian landmass some 2200 years ago. 

2. The second chapter hinges on the foreigners and their attacks on this landmass.  All the invaders blasted the vast Indian expanses with their armies ravaging indigenous people and their properties.

The majority of them came from the northwestern side (Pakistan, Central Asia) but as they progressed further into southern or peninsular India (now the Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka etc.) the peninsular rivers made their movements difficult. 

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Bene Israel; from India to Israel again

The eastern and western coasts of India were not ideal for land attack through sea. The Thar Desert on the western side of the Indian landmass with a harsh climate was unfriendly for the invaders to cross.

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Such geographical isolation gave this landmass a safe and guarded position as compared to other regions of the world. The only exception was its northwestern (Central Asia, Pakistan) route. 

3. After WW2, strongly believing in the British commitment as made to them in the Balfour Declaration, the Bombay Zionist Association sent a secret memorandum to the Jerusalem Jewish Agency on 8 April 1947 advising them to also focus on Asia.

Islam is no doubt a strong factor in Asian politics but there are Hinduism (India) and Buddhism (Far east) as well that must also have to be reckoned with.

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Bene Israel; from India to Israel again

Though Gandhi Ji critiqued the Jewish settlements in Palestine, the Israeli Jewish Agency must not ignore cultivating good relations with the newly independent country of India like theirs. 

4. With the formation of the new state of Israel, Jews from all over the world saw it as their homeland made for them after 2000 years. It was natural to move and settle there with a religious zeal but it was not so easy.

The countries they migrated from were well-settled and had good infrastructure but the state of Israel had none of these qualities.  Apart from that, it was an alien land surrounded by hostile warring Arabs. 

5. In the first decade of the state of Israel, nearly 8500 Bene Israelis emigrated to it from India.  Where they faced many socio-political and economic issues including religious bigotry from their fellow compatriots who believed that they were not true and pure Jews. The Aliyah Youth movement was the main organizer of this Bene Israeli migration to the state of Israel. 

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Bene Israel; from India to Israel again

6.  Israel claims that it was formed on the divine principles of its prophets as enunciated by them forbidding any discrimination among all humans.  But for the Bene Israeli or the Indian Jews, it was not true.  Even the Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Itzhak Nissim, questioned such prohibition and prejudice against Bene Israelis.

6. The last concluding chapter tells the efforts and moves taken by the Bene Israelis in particular and other migrated Jews in general to the state of Israel for their survival and uplift. Among the most prominent and vocal Bene Israelis was Benjamin Abraham Samson,  nicknamed Chippy, who organized the Federation of Indian Jews to work for their betterment. 

The book is an interesting as well as engrossing read to know about a state made in the name of religion for its followers. 


Bene Israel; from India to Israel again

I am,

Murtaza Kaleem an educator, freelance writer, movie-watcher, melodious music listener and an avid reader about International Relations and World Politics with a decade long experience of education and teaching to students of different sociological and economic backgrounds. My social links are;

Facebook.com/murtazakaleem88

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