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Israel's Indian Jews still love Bollywood beats
Shibi Alex Chandy, IANS Jan 9  [ Sun, Jan 9, 2005 ]
           
  • Ashdod (Israel), Jan 9 (IANS): It is almost a decade and a half since Shlomil Pabrekar quit his job with a Mumbai firm and settled down in this port city on the Mediterranean, but his passion for Hindi cinema remains undiminished.

    "Ah, those were the days," says Pabrekar, wearing nostalgia like a wistful halo. "Ganging up with friends and going to watch the matinee at the Minerva or the Metro."

    And even here, a few thousand kilometres from his erstwhile home, he is able to indulge in his passion. "Thanks to DVDs and VCDs, I continue to watch Hindi films," he smiles, adding that his sons too are hooked on to the celluloid dreams churned out in Mumbai.

    "It has helped them learn Hindi," says Pabrekar, who speaks Marathi at home.

    Pabrekar is one of the estimated 70,000 Jews of Indian origin in Israel, a community whose religion brought them to the Promised Land, but whose hearts still throb to Bollywood beats.

    A majority of the Indian Jews here are Bene Israelis, who hail from Maharashtra. Then there are the Cochin Jews, the Kutchi Jews, the Baghdadi Jews and the recently discovered Bene Menashe, Jews from Mizoram and Manipur in northeastern India, believed to be descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel.

    It is the Marathi-speaking Bene Israelis who are keeping their links with India active, bringing out a journal in their mother tongue called 'Maiboli', celebrating Maharashtra Day on May 1 and organising Independence Day celebrations at which Bollywood stars are regular invitees.

    In a land dominated by the European and Arab Jews, the "ethnically South Asian" Indian Jews "feel different," admits Noah Massil, president of the Central Organisation of Indian Jews, an umbrella outfit of the Jews from India.

    Which is why the community largely sticks together and can be found mostly here in Ashdod and in the towns on Beer Sheva, on the edge of the Negev desert, and Demona, home to Israel's nuclear programme.

    The Indian Jews also frequent their own synagogues, some 40 of them across this nation that is only a little bigger than the Indian state of Mizoram.

    Though small in size, the Indian Jewish community has in its own small way been making its mark in Israel.

    "We are not business people," Massil told a visiting IANS correspondent, pointing out that the Maharashtrian Jews - who were largely salaried people back in India - do not have the legendary Jewish money-making skills. "We have made our mark in services and now, slowly, in politics."

    Continued on next page...

  • Brigadier (retired) Isaac Samuel, the highest-ranking Indian Jew in the Israel Army, died last November, and in politics, a member of the community, Mumbai-born Eli Ben Menachem, is currently the deputy speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

    Unlike many other Jewish communities who have severed links with their home countries, the Indian Jews still identify strongly with India.

    "We are proud Indians," says Massil, adding that, till India established diplomatic ties with Israel in the early 1990s, "we were India's ambassadors here."

    And Bollywood has in no small measure helped foster this community's links with its home country.


           



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