Today's blogpost was written by Jonathan Nagavkar a Yahel Social Change fellow from Mumbai living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Rishon LeZion.
The Indian bene Israeli community lost an important person from their community from Petah Tikwah. You might have some doubt in your mind about what this community is, does India also have a Jewish community? Who is the man this community is mourning? More about that after a brief history of the Indian Bene Israel community..
The oldest Bene-Israel cemetery
India is a multi-linguistic land, a mixture of many communities living humbly with each other. The Jewish history in India is dated back to the time of King Solomon who came to the coast of Cochin to trade.
This lost tribe may have arrived in the 17th century. According to the community’s own oral tradition, they are descendents from “seven couples from a country to the north,” the sole survivors of a shipwreck off the Konkan coast near Navagaon (about 48 km south of Bombay). These people lived around the 7 villages of Kokan in the Alibagh district and later adopted the names of the villages as their new surnames like Penkar, Nagavkar, Cheulkar, Rajpurkar and many more. The survivors didn’t have the holy torah to follow Judaism, due to their scrolls being ruined in the shipwreck. However, they continued to follow kashrut laws, the niddah law, and recited the SHEMA ISRAEL prayer on daily basis. An Indian Jew from Cochin named David Rahabi discovered the Bene Israel in their villages and recognized their vestigial Jewish customs. Rahabi taught the people about normative Judaism. He trained some young men among them to be the religious preceptors of the community Known as Kajis, these men held a position that became hereditary, similar to the Cohanim. They became recognized as judges and settlers of disputes within the community. He was the one who gave the Jewish scrolls to Bene Israelis.
After some years Jewish youth moved to Bombay for higher education and employment purpose and they excelled in many streams. Even today many buildings built by Jewish entrepreneurs stand strong. For example, the Sassoon library in fort, Bombay, Sassoon dock in Colaba, Mumbai, Sassoon hospital in Pune, the Gate Way of India in Mumbai which was funded by rich Sassoon entrepreneur to the British.
A traditional Bene Israel family
The Sasson Library At Fort, South Mumbai
Bene Israelis have played a very important role in the infrastructural development of Mumbai city, the financial capital of India. From the formation of the Jewish state the bene Israelis have started making Aliyah in search for a permanent Jewish home. There is also an Indian Israeli politician who made Aliyah in the year 1949 named Eli Ben-Menachem, who served as a member of the Knesset between 1988-2006.
The bene Israeli community has been a small but a wonderful part of the Jewish population in Israel as well as the world. Despite this, after decades, they still being considered an inferior or a backward community. Why is the Judaism of Bene-Israel Jews continuously questioned?
Danial Moses was born to Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother in Mumbai in the year 1975. His mother (before getting married to his father) underwent a conversion as per Jewish laws in India. After several years, Danial, along his parents and siblings, made Aliyah to Israel in the 1980’s. However, after arriving in Petah tiwah, Danial didn’t undergo the conversion process over as per ordered by the Rabbinate.
Danial served the IDF for 3 years, as all the youth in Israel do, and by the age of 23 he got married to an Israeli Indian woman and they had 2 kids.
Danial lived happily with his new family working in an foil company, but before the recent high holidays, Danial experienced a minor stroke at work and was rushed to the nearby hospital. Unfortunately he passed away leaving back his poor wife and teen kids. His body was supposed to be taken to the Jewish cemetery in Petah Tiwah but unfortunately the Rabbanu didn’t give him the issuer to be buried in the Jewish cemetery, simply because he was born to a non-jewish mother and didn’t convert after coming to Israel, despite that his mother had already converted. This was a very disturbing situation for Dainal’s family. At this point of time they had no idea what can be done. People already began to leave for the funeral in Petah Tiwah.
Thankfully, they were informed about the situation and it was decided to bury Danial ( who followed Judaism very strictly) in a non-Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Beersheba. This cemetery is not a non-Jewish cemetery, but the cemetery for those who didn’t covert as per the rabbanu. Even after burying Danial in that cemetery, no rabbi from any origin was ready to read the haskaba. His family had to face numerous issues thereafter, and they will need to travel a long distance just to visit Danial’s gravesite near Beer Sheva.
Is this fair, that even after death, this Jewish Israeli man had to face so many problems during his burial? Why can’t the rabbanu just accept everyone who has one Jewish parent. Is being Jewish more important than being a good human? Many such cases come up in Israel, problems faced by minority Jewish immigrants coming from India, Ethiopia, other African countries and even sometimes United States.
We all should stand up and raise a voice against such injustice and ask for equal rights for all…
Jai hind…. Jai Israel