What it means to be a Jew in India

This article gives me an opportunity to look at my career and social life. Many a time I’m asked that when in India the conditions are not very suitable, so many Jews are packing their bags for better living, why we are still here. To this, I and my family are having a very clear and firm stand. We feel that all these years the people of India have given us love, affection and supported in various difficult situations.

India is the only country where anti-Semitism has never been allowed to come up, where Jews have always prosper and have lived as an integral part of our society. There was a time in the city of Mumbai that Hebrew was officially taught in the university and even one of the mayors of Mumbai city was from a Jewish family.

I was born and brought up in Mumbai to a Bene Israel Family. I was raised in a Hindu and Muslim society. Both my parents were in the Govt. service, and ours were a reasonably stable family. I have the fond memories from my childhood. We all had a good time in studying and playing together without any distinction in terms of cast creed and religion. They played no role into our day to day life probably that might have deep routed the spirit of co-existence.

Indian Jews are a religious minority of India. We bene Jews adopted Hindu names like mine, Akshikar.

My Parents are retired from government service. My family observed kosher dietary. When I was growing up, we would look forward to important Jewish festivals like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah and Passover. On Rosh Hashanah the whole community appeared at the dockyard for sea prayers and on Yom Kippur, it was customary to visit family and friends. On Yom Kippur, we dress exclusively in white. I remember my mother would spread white sheets, white curtains and white tablecloth as it is symbol for purity to allow us to be given a fresh and clean start. Been born in Jewish family always made me feel unique in India and in other countries.

Rajma Chawal Effect

On the professional front I tried my hand in few jobs, but soon I realized that my temperament is so independent that I meant to be a leader and not the follower.

I started my own advertising agency. Now I am in this profession for over 18 years and handling prestigious assignments in the country and abroad.

Travelling to different countries has made an impact on me in terms of culture and food. I visited Israel several times, but I had this unique opportunity to lead a group of 22 youth from the bene Jewish community these have given me over view of Jewish culture and history.

I experience of seeing Israel for the first time from the eyes of TaglitBirthright Israel Experience. At the Western Wall in Jerusalem I felt one of those inspiring moments. There was something that touched me emotionally and spiritually.

I would like to share my unique experience with Yaniv Wakrulkar’s Family Grandmother and his Mother Grace, who migrated to Israel. They welcomed us into their home and showed us the greatest hospitality. It was amusing, that we were served the typical Indian Jewish food known as Chowli Chawal, which resembles to Rajma Chawal. I had interaction with Grace Yaniv’s Mother about her family, relationships with Israel and Bene Jews, how she feels living in Israel, and her hobbies and passion for homemade Indian masala (spice).

It is these types of personal experiences, which give me hope and energy. No words can describe how incredible this feels such an extraordinary experience. The places you go, the people you meet so much to learn from them. We struggled to keep our Jewish culture alive in India. I saw bene Jews struggling to keep Indian culture alive in Israel.

Times are changing and so the generations. I believe that children today are capable of learning from theirown experiences. I believe that honesty, kindness and sincerity is human religion, and that’s has to be practice first. My son Kevin Samuel, 24, was born in Mumbai, and today at this stage he has develop maturity.

We have real conversations and that reveal his beautiful personality. Like many bene Jews he speaks Marathi with an accent Also. I haven’t seen him have a meal without dal and he prefers to be a vegetarian.

There are innumerable avenues available for today’s generation. Under this circumstance as parents we can motivate our children howeverwhat is important is how they get inspired is what going to make a difference.I respectto his decisions to live wherever he choose.Our Jewish people are strong and independent to deal with any odds. There are community organization like JDC, ORT, Synagogues and Chabad, who are doing excellent work by bringing youthtogether by various engagements and activities.

I have endeavored my mission to promote goodwill between Israel and India through business and cultural tie ups for which I have very high appreciation for my embassy and the consulate which has supported whole heartedly. Fortunately with the new Prime Minister Indo Israel relationship will touch new heights in the coming years making my dream and mission a reality!!

Eddna Samuel is among those young Bene Israel Jewish leaders in India who show devotion to India as their motherland while having equally great respects for their Dharmabhoomi, Israel. She’s the director of Motif India, a successful entrepreneur who has had a decade long dynamic stint in the world of media, entertainment, fashion and events. She lives in Mumbai.

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