Indian Jewish community members have played a crucial role in strengthening India-Israel ties

Highlighting contributions of the Indian Jewish community in bolstering ties between India and Israel, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Sunday said the Indian diaspora in Israel is a basis for creating a new bond between the two countries.

EAM Jaishankar who reached Israel on a five-day visit, said this in his remarks during his interaction with Indian Jewish Community and Indologists.

Emphasizing the uniqueness of the Indian Jewish community, he said members of this community like other communities had existed peacefully in India for hundreds of years and maintained Jewish identity despite a long period of isolation from other Jewish communities.

Jaishankar showered praises on the members of the Indian Jewish community for their continuous support to freedom and equality.

Shedding more lights on India-Israel connections, he said: “The Talmud mentions trade with India in ginger and iron. And the Book of Esther, in fact, mentions India as Hodu. One of your 17th century mystics settled down near Delhi and was revered as a Sufi saint by us. And the fact is that the Jewish Indian community over many centuries, in multiple ways contributed to the building of India.”

“We often go around Mumbai and Pune not realizing that many landmarks were actually the contributions of this community, whether it is the Sassoon docks in Mumbai and the Sassoon Hospital in Pune. David Sassoon in fact, was one of the founders of the Bank of India,” he added.

“And some of you were of course by the side of Mahatma Gandhi during our freedom struggle. In 1916, one of the lawyers in the team defending one of our major national leaders, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was a Jew – David Erulkar,” Jaishankar added.

“Some members of the community contributed as educators, some as medical doctors, like Dr Jerusha Jhirad was awarded one of our highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri. Some served as administrators and some distinguished themselves in judiciary, such as David Reuben who served as the Chief Justice of one of our High Courts,” he said.

He talked about the distinctive Malida thali made by the Bene Israelis – and Malida is now officially incorporated in the local calendar here.

Likewise, the influence of the mangalsutra and the mehendi among Bene Israelis, the practice of ‘Baat Pukka’ for formalizing marriages among Baghdadi Jews, and symbolic adorning of the Torah arks with jasmine garlands and the use of manara by the Cochini Jews, he added.

“You also adopted that very Indian tradition of removing shoes before entering the synagogue. And you all still remember our way of life, our languages, our festivals, and, I am told about the Maiboli journal in Marathi,” Jaishankar said.

“India’s connections with Jerusalem go back to 800 years. One of our revered Sufi saints, Baba Farid, meditated in a cave inside the city walls in Jerusalem. And this place later has become a shrine and a pilgrim lodge for travelers from India. Today, this Indian Hospice symbolizes India’s presence in the Old City,” he said.

“Further, hundreds of Indian soldiers fought in this land during the First World War, and many of them actually made the supreme sacrifice. The tale of the valiant cavalry charge by Indian soldiers that liberated the city of Haifa on September 23, 1918 is of course very well known,” the Minister mentioned.

Acknowledging the presence of indologists amongst the audiences, he said they are still strengthening the bond through scholarly studies of India and its vast cultural treasures.

“We owe a deep gratitude for the understanding and friendship that your work has fostered in this land. You serve, all of you, to widen and deepen the discourse between one holy land and another,” Jaishankar said.

Recalling Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel four years ago, the EAM said the Indian PM had said, “We are joined by traditions, culture, mutual trust and friendship.”

“Our two countries share values of democracy and pluralism. We also share some of our guiding civilizational philosophies: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in India, or the world is one family, and Tikun Olam in Israel, or heal the world,” he explained.

“We also share similar challenges to our society from radicalism and terrorism, apart from many other emerging developments on the geopolitical landscape. The real thrust, however, is to expand the innovation and trade partnership between our two knowledge economies,” Jaishankar informed.

Stating that India is celebrating the 75th year of its independence and that in 2023, Israel too would be celebrating the 75th year of its independence, he said, these occasions are significant milestones to start new voyages and to cover new horizons.