Modi’s trip holds spe­cial mean­ing for In­dian Jews

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

At a curry house in cen­tral Is­rael, a poster wel­com­ing In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi greets pa­trons even be­fore they en­counter the rich scent of spices waft­ing from the kitchen. Modi’s three-day visit be­gan yes­ter­day-the first ever of an In­dian premier to Is­rael-is a land­mark mo­ment for the Jewish state, a coun­try seek­ing the friend­ship of pow­er­ful al­lies and cus­tomers for its ad­vanced mil­i­tary equip­ment.

But for mem­bers of the small Jewish In­dian com­mu­nity in Is­rael, the trip is a cause of gen­uine ex­cite­ment and a unique op­por­tu­nity to in­crease their visibility. “There’s not a sin­gle (In­dian) house­hold that’s not talk­ing about it. This is all peo­ple are talk­ing about,” said Elazar Ash­tivker, owner of the Ma­haraja restau­rant in the city of Ramla, south of Tel Aviv. “It’s his­toric,” he said. The fast-talk­ing 33-year-old’s par­ents, who were born in In­dia, opened the restau­rant in its first in­car­na­tion in the 1980s be­cause they felt “the com­mu­nity was in de­cline”. Ini­tially, the restau­rant served the In­dian com­mu­nity nearly ex­clu­sively.

But in the 1990s the trend of Is­raelis trav­el­ling to Asia af­ter com­plet­ing their mil­i­tary ser­vice be­came wildly pop­u­lar, and many re­turned home with a taste for the Ma­haraja’s spicy del­i­ca­cies. The restau­rant serves what Ash­tivker calls “main­stream In­dian food” but also sells pep­pers, veg­eta­bles and im­ported spices. The word­ing on the poster is in the col­ors of the In­dian flag and in­vites mem­bers of the In­dian com­mu­nity, in He­brew and English, to a July 5 meet­ing with Modi in Tel Aviv. “There’s a lot of ex­cite­ment,” Ash­tivker said. “Ev­ery­one has signed up and ev­ery­one is go­ing.”“If you looked for In­di­ans in Is­rael on the 5th you won’t find any. They’ll all be at the con­ven­tion cen­tre,” he said with a laugh.

‘In­vis­i­ble Jews’

Es­ti­mates put the num­ber of Jews of In­dian ori­gin in Is­rael at about 100,000, ac­cord­ing to Eliaz Dan­deker, a his­to­rian and au­thor doc­u­ment­ing the com­mu­nity. Even those of In­dian ori­gin born in Is­rael main­tain a “deep con­nec­tion” to their an­ces­tral home­land, said Dan­deker, in­clud­ing through mu­sic, cin­ema, food and cul­tural events. Events in Is­rael have fea­tured ap­pear­ances by In­dian ac­tors. Jews made their way to In­dia over the course of the last 3,000 years, and by and large have not suf­fered re­li­gious and racist per­se­cu­tion in the coun­try. They be­gan com­ing to Is­rael en masse in the late 1940s and early 1950s for re­li­gious and other rea­sons.

Many of them set­tled in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to be­come farm­ers, while oth­ers moved to pe­riph­eral towns through­out the coun­try. In the first years fol­low­ing the cre­ation of the state of Is­rael in 1948, many In­dian im­mi­grants aban­doned their names and tra­di­tions as part of the era’s “melt­ing pot” ideal. “There’s more open­ness to­day” to In­dian cul­ture, the 34-year-old Dan­deker said. “The younger gen­er­a­tions want to know more.”

‘He’s spe­cial’

In his spice shop near the Ma­haraja, Shaul Divekar, who em­i­grated from In­dia as a child, scoops red lentils from a sack into a plas­tic bag, chat­ting from be­hind his counter with two cus­tomers. The con­ver­sa­tion fluc­tu­ates be­tween the goods that ar­rived from In­dia and the prime min­is­ter who is about to. Divekar proudly notes he is in charge of one of the seven buses tak­ing In­dian Is­raelis from Ramla to Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing with Modi.”He’s spe­cial,” Divekar said of Hindu na­tion­al­ist Modi, a Bol­ly­wood mu­sic video play­ing on a lap­top be­hind the cash reg­is­ter.

“He likes Jews,” proudly of­fers a tall bearded man in his 30s stand­ing nearby the In­dian DVD col­lec­tion in Divekar’s store, his He­brew heavy with an In­dian ac­cent. Dan­deker, the his­to­rian, notes that Jewish In­di­ans in Is­rael have been called the “in­vis­i­ble Jews” since they are nei­ther Ashke­nazis from Europe nor Sephardis from Africa and the Mid­dle East.

While mem­bers of the com­mu­nity have reached promi­nence in Is­rael in fields in­clud­ing medicine and the mil­i­tary, “a lot of them don’t stress their ori­gins”. And with many of them hav­ing changed their last names to sound more Is­raeli, “it’s hard to spot them,” said Dan­deker. Modi’s visit and its po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate in­ter­est among Is­raelis in In­dian cul­ture could help raise the pro­file of the In­dian com­mu­nity. “We ex­pect it to help ad­vance our com­mu­nity,” said Ash­tivker, the restau­ra­teur. “We’re a small com­mu­nity here and don’t re­ally stand out.”—AFP

RAMLA: Elazar Ash­tivker, owner of the Ma­haraja In­dian restau­rant in the small city of Ramla, south of Tel Aviv, cooks at his restau­rant as the Jewish In­dian com­mu­nity pre­pare for the visit of the In­dian prime min­is­ter. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.