India and Israel share similar challenges for their societies, including radicalism and terrorism, as well as many other emerging developments in the geopolitical landscape, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar told Indian Jewish community and indologists.
Dr Jaishankar, during his first visit to Israel as Minister of Foreign Affairs, praised the manifold contributions of the Indian Jewish community to the centuries-old ties between the two countries.
The minister, who arrived on Sunday for a five-day official visit, said he was confident that the Indian Jewish community in Israel will bring the two countries even closer in the years to come.
He said it was his third visit to Israel in the past four years, but every time he returns he leaves with a feeling of an unfinished journey.
“Like India, it is also a place that takes a lifetime to discover and understand. So I am happy to be back here, in a land with which we have centuries-old ties, and among you, who are the umbilical cord nurturing those ties, ”he said.
Dr Jaishankar pointed out that India’s bilateral relations with Israel have followed a qualitatively different trajectory in recent years.
“Our two countries share the values of democracy and pluralism. We also share some of our guiding civilizational philosophies: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in India, where the world is a family, and Tikun Olam in Israel, or heal the world.
“We also share similar challenges to our society of radicalism and terrorism, aside from many other emerging developments on the geopolitical landscape,” Dr Jaishankar said, without further details.
India has sensed major threats emanating from across the Pakistani border, while Israel is also surrounded by neighbors it sees as hostile. India and Israel have a joint counterterrorism task force, and the two countries are also sharing real-time intelligence to deal with what they see as a threat.
Dr Jaishankar said that “the real goal, however, is to expand innovation and business partnership between our two knowledge economies”.
For example, he noted that the two countries have worked together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Can we take it to the next level? How should we further increase contacts and collaboration between scientists, students and start-ups? I will be discussing these and other issues in my meetings during my visit, ”said Dr Jaishankar. .
Dr Jaishankar said that four years ago he had the honor of accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his historic visit to Israel in which he said India’s relations with his Indian expatriate community in Israel were based on “mutual trust and friendship”.
The Jewish diaspora in India remains unique because “like other communities, it has coexisted peacefully in India for hundreds of years but has maintained its Jewish identity despite long isolation from other Jewish communities,” he said.
“You chose to start a new life here primarily for civilizational reasons. And it is rare in Jewish history that you have had a long and continuous period in which you have prospered in freedom and equality, such as you did it in India, ”he said.
Citing ancient ties between the two civilizations – both cultural and religious, Dr Jaishankar applauded the contribution of Indian Jews to India’s nation-building process, describing them as “one of us “.
The central text of rabbinical Judaism, the Talmud, mentions the trade with India in ginger and iron. Another prominent religious text, The Book of Esther, mentions India as Hodu.
“You helped build India. We often travel around Mumbai and Pune not realizing that many landmarks were your contributions like Sassoon Docks in Mumbai and Sassoon Hospital in Pune. David Sassoon was, in fact, one of the founders of Bank of India, ”said Dr Jaishankar.
“Some of you were with Mahatma Gandhi during our struggle for freedom. In 1916 one of the lawyers on the team defending one of our main nationalist leaders, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was a Jew, David Erulkar, “he continued.
Some have contributed as educators and others as doctors, such as Dr Jerusha Jhirad, who received one of India’s highest civilian honors, the Padma Shri, said Dr Jaishankar.
“Some of you have been administrators and some have stood out in our judicial system, like David Reuben who was chief justice of one of our high courts. Three of you have become mayors of Bombay,” said he declared.
“And there were three more that are remembered for their military service; Vice-Admiral JR Samson, Major-General BA Samson and Lieutenant-General JFR Jacob whose uniform hangs in the Latrun museum here,” he added.
Dr Jaishankar then highlighted the community’s contributions to the enrichment of Indian literature and arts with Nissim Ezekiel, who received the Sahitya Akademi Prize.
“People of my generation grew up in India waking up to the sound of All India Radio’s flagship song that was composed by a Jew in exile in India, Walter Kauffman. And how can you be in India and not be touched by Bollywood and cricket! You were part of our film industry and one of you, Judah Reuben, has officiated as a cricket referee in many test matches in India, “he recalls.
The continuity of secular Indian practices by the Jewish community was particularly appreciated by the minister, whom he considered as creating “the organic bond between our two peoples”.
“What is equally important and interesting is that not only have you, again inevitably, brought some flavors of India here, but also preserved, or assimilated in some form or another, some Indian traditions in a way that’s unique to you. ”said Dr. Jaishankar.
In culinary links he mentioned the Malida thali made by the Bene Israelis (Indian Jews from the Maharashtra region).
He spoke of the influence of the mangasutra and mehendi, the practice of “baat pukka“for the formalization of marriages among Baghdadi Jews, the symbolic ornamentation of the Torah arches with garlands of jasmine, and the use of manara by the Jews of Cochini as such examples.
“You have also adopted this very Indian tradition of taking off your shoes before entering the synagogue. You still remember our way of life, our languages and our festivals,” he added.
“I was told about the Maiboli newspaper in Marathi. And I recently saw pictures of many of you celebrating Onam with a saadya meal, without forgetting the flower rangoli. You celebrate both Holi and Purim, and both Diwali and Hanukkah, ”he said.
“It is therefore not at all surprising that so many of you say (that) Israel is my homeland and India my homeland,” Dr Jaishankar said.
Speaking to indologists, he said that “we owe a debt of gratitude for their love and affection for India,” which has helped to strengthen ties between the two countries.
“You serve to both broaden and deepen the discourse between one holy land and another. There are, among you, those who have deepened the Dravidian languages and literature, translated classical Sanskrit texts into Hebrew, devoted themselves to the study of Hindi literature, and even ventured into comparative studies of the two. religions, ”said Dr Jaishankar.
He mentioned India’s historical connection to Jerusalem dating back to the Sufi Saint Baba Farid meditating in a cave within the city walls around 1200 CE, the role of Indian soldiers in the area during World War I, and how some of these soldiers also provided security for the spiritual leader of the Baha’i Faith in Israel during this time.
“In the modern post-independence era, there is also this relatively lesser-known aspect of how major socialist political leaders and currents in India felt a kinship with the kibbutz movement in Israel, in a quest to build on the Gandhian concept of ashram or village as an autonomous development unit, ”he noted.
Pointing out some of the lesser-known ties between the peoples of the two countries, he shared, “Jayaprakash Narayan, one of our most prominent political leaders and theorists associated with our struggle for independence, visited Israel in 1958, and many supporters of Vinoba Bhave, another imposing leader of our independence movement, visited Israel in 1960 to better understand the kibbutz movement. “
The strong link, he said, also brings the urgent need to tap both community and indologists here to better document community heritage and history, as well as societal cross-flows.
“How do we preserve the memory and experiences of the elders in the community? How do we listen to the younger generation of the community, understand their aspirations and integrate them into our living bridge? How do we improve the reach of the work being done by indologists both within the community and outside? ”He asked.
“We would be happy to hear from you and support efforts in this direction. I am told that the Embassy has already offered to dedicate a corner in its Cultural Center to house the work you do so that it is both available and accessible in one place, ”he said.
Dr Jaishankar noted that next year marks the 30th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel. India celebrates the 75th anniversary of its own independence. In 2023, Israel would also celebrate the 75th anniversary of its independence. These opportunities are important milestones to start new journeys and cover new horizons, he said.
Dr Jaishankar also launched a book by Professor Shaul Sapir “Bombay / Mumbai: City Heritage Walks”.
Sapir, an Indian-born scholar, was a professor at the prestigious Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The book describes the great way to experience the city’s ancient colonial architectural gems and get a glimpse of the city’s glory during the days of the British Raj.
The publication includes 14 city walks, 15 easy-to-follow maps, 123 monuments and historical and architectural heritage sites, 850 notes and sources and over 1,000 photographs.
During his visit, the Minister visited President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
He will also meet with leading academics from across Israel, business leaders and interact with the Indian Jewish community.
Dr Jaishankar will also visit places of historical significance to India, demonstrating its long-term presence in the region and the constructive role played in shaping the history of the region.