External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is on a five-day visit to Israel, told the Indian Jewish community and Indologists here that both countries share similar challenges to their societies of extremism and terrorism apart from the many other developments emerging on the geopolitical landscape.
Jaishankar, on his first visit to Israel as Minister of Foreign Affairs, praised the “many contributions” of the Indian Jewish community during the centuries-old relations between the two countries.
Jaishankar arrived in Israel on Sunday for a five-day official visit. He said he was confident that the Indian Jewish community in Israel would bring the two countries closer in the coming years.
He said this is his third visit to Israel in the past four years, but every time he returns, he leaves with an unfinished journey.
“Like India, this is also a place that takes a lifetime to discover and understand. Therefore, I am happy to be back here, in a land with which we have centuries of bonds, and among you who form the umbilical cord that nourishes these bonds.”
Jaishankar noted that the bilateral relations between India and Israel have been on a qualitatively different path in the past few years.
“Our two countries share the values of democracy and pluralism. We also share some of our civilization-guiding philosophies: Vasudaeva Kutumbakkam in India, or The World is One Family, Tikun Olam in Israel, or Healing the World.
“We also share similar challenges to our society from extremism and terrorism, apart from many other developments emerging on the geopolitical landscape,” Jaishankar said without going into details.
India faces significant cross-border threats from Pakistan and Israel, which are also surrounded by hostile neighbours. India and Israel have a joint counter-terrorism working group, and the two countries also share real-time intelligence to deal with this threat.
“The real motive, however, is to expand innovation and business partnership among our knowledge economists,” Jaishankar said.
For example, he noted that the two countries have cooperated to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Can we take this to the next level? How can we increase communication and collaboration between scientists, students and startups? I will discuss these and other issues in my meetings during my visit,” Jaishankar said.
Jaishankar said that four years ago I had the honor to accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his historic visit to Israel, during which he said that India’s relationship with the Jewish community in Israel is one of “mutual trust and friendship”.
He said the Jewish diaspora in India remains unique because “like other communities, it coexisted peacefully in India for hundreds of years but maintained its Jewish identity despite its long isolation from other Jewish communities.”
“I chose to start a new life here chiefly for cultural reasons. It is rare in Jewish history that you have had such a long and uninterrupted period where you flourished in freedom and equality, as you did in India,” he asserted.
Citing the ancient links between the two civilizations – both cultural and religious, Jaishankar praised the contribution of Indian Jews to the nation-building process of India, describing them as “one of us”.
The central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud, mentions the trade with India in ginger and iron. Another religious text, the Book of Esther, mentions India as Hodu.
“You have contributed to building India. We often walk around Mumbai and Pune without realizing that many of the landmarks were your contributions, such as Sassoon Docks in Mumbai and Sassoon Hospital in Pune. David Sassoon was, in fact, a co-founder of the Bank of India.
He said, “Some of you were on the side of Mahatma Gandhi during our freedom struggle. In 1916, one of the lawyers on the team defending one of our main national leaders, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was a Jew, David Erolkar.”
Some have contributed as teachers and some as doctors, Jaishankar said, such as Dr. Jerusha Girad, who received one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri.
“Some of you have served as administrators and some have excelled in our judiciary, such as David Rubin who served as Chief Justice in one of our High Courts. There were three of you who became mayors of Bombay.
“And there were three others in memory for their military service. Vice Admiral J.R. Samson, General PA Samson, and General J.F.R. Jacob whose uniforms are hung in the Latrun Museum here.”
Jaishankar went on to highlight the society’s contributions to the enrichment of literature and the arts in India with the likes of Naseem Ezekiel being honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award.
“People of my generation in India grew up waking up to the distinctive tune of All India Radio composed by the Jewish exile in India, Walter Kaufman. And how can you be in India and stay untouched by Bollywood and cricket! I was part of our film industry, and one of you, Judah Robin, employed Position as cricket referee in several India Test matches.
The continuation of ancient Indian practices by the Jewish community received special appreciation from the Minister, who he considered to create an “organic bond between our two peoples”.
“What is important and interesting is that you did not inevitably carry here some Indian flavors with you, but you somehow preserved or absorbed some Indian traditions in a way that is unique to you,” Jaishankar said.
In cooking, he mentioned “Malida thali” made by Beni Israeli (Indian Jews from Maharashtra region).
He spoke of the influence of ‘mangalsutra’ and ‘mehendi’, the practice of ‘baat pukka’ to formalize marriages between Baghdadi Jews and the symbolic decoration of Torah ships with jasmine wreaths and the use of ‘lighthouse’ by Cochin Jews. Some of these examples.
“I also adopted this same Indian tradition of removing shoes before entering the synagogue. And you still remember our way of life, our languages, our festivals.
“I was told about Maiboli magazine in Marathi. I recently saw pictures of many of you celebrating Onam with a ‘happy’ meal, lest we forget the flower rangoli. You celebrate Holi, Purim, Diwali and Hanukkah.”
“Therefore, it is not at all surprising that many of you would say (that) Israel is my motherland and India,” Jaishankar emphasized.
Addressing the Indian scholars, he said, “We owe a debt of gratitude for their love and affection for India,” which has helped strengthen ties between the two countries.
“You broaden and deepen the discourse between one sacred land and another. And there are, among you, those who have delved into Dravidian languages and literature, translated classical Sanskrit texts into Hebrew, devoted themselves to the study of Indian literature, and even ventured into comparative studies of the two religions”
He pointed to India’s historical connection with Jerusalem since Saint Baba Farid was meditating in a cave inside the city walls around 1200 AD, and the role of Indian soldiers in the region during the First World War and how some of these soldiers also ensured the safety of soldiers. The spiritual leader of the Bahá’í Faith in Israel at that time.
“In modern post-independence periods there is also this relatively less well-known aspect about how the major socialist political leaders and currents in India feel a kinship with the kibbutz movement in Israel, in their quest to build on Gandhi’s concept of an ashram or village as a self-sustaining unit of development.”
Referring to some of the lesser known ties between the peoples of the two countries, he said, “Jayaprakash Narayan, one of our most prominent political leaders and theoreticians associated with our struggle for independence, visited Israel in 1958, and many followers of Vinuba Bhav, another prominent leader of our independence movement, visited Israel in 1960 to better understand the kibbutz movement.
The strong connection, he said, also brings an urgent need to draw on both the community and the Indian scholars here to better document the heritage and history of the community, as well as societal cross-flows.
“How do we preserve the memory and experiences of the community elders? How do we listen to the younger generation of the community, understand their aspirations and make them part of our living bridge? How can we enhance the reach of the work being done by Indian scholars within and beyond the community?”
We are pleased to hear from you and support endeavors in this direction. I have been told that the Embassy has already offered to designate a corner in its cultural center to house the work it does so that it is available and accessible in one place.
Jaishankar noted that next year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel. India celebrates the 75th anniversary of our independence. In the year 2023, Israel will also celebrate the seventy-fifth year of its independence. He said that these occasions represent important milestones to start new journeys and to cover new horizons.
Jaishankar also launched a book by Professor Shaul Sapir titled “Bombay/Mumbai: City Heritage Trails”.
Sapir, an Indian-born scientist, was a professor at the prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The book illustrates the excellent way to discover the city’s ancient colonial architectural gems and get a glimpse of the city’s glory in the days of British rule.
The publication includes 14 city walking tours, 15 easy-to-follow maps, 123 historical and architectural monuments and sites, 850 observations and resources, and more than 1,000 photographs.
During his visit, the minister will visit President Yitzhak Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
He will also hold talks with prominent academics from all over Israel and leaders of the business community and interact with the Indian Jewish community.
Jaishankar will also visit places of historical significance to India, attesting to its long-standing presence in the region and the constructive role it has played in shaping the history of the region.
(with PTI input)