The Festival is scheduled to be a cultural celebration of everything that has been, and is Bene-Israeli
It seems like festival time in Mumbai this month of January. Apart from the Mumbai Shopping Festival, the Bene Israeli Jews – a small but ancient Jewish community that strongly belongs to the Indian cultural fabric – are all set to roll out the first ever International Festival of Bene Israelis in Mumbai today. The Festival is scheduled to be a cultural celebration of everything that has been, and is Bene-Israeli. “From celebrating our culture via reviving our rituals and customs, experiencing the traditional Bene Israeli cuisine to that of a showcase of the folk dances of India – ‘Incredible India Dance Showcase’, from felicitation of the Friends of Jews in India, to felicitating members of the international and Indian community, a lot of action is scheduled, says Lebana Penkar, secretary, International Organization of Bene Israelis (IOBI). This festival also aims to further strengthen the cultural ties between both the Indian and Israeli citizens who belong to the Bene Israeli community and otherwise. Such events also encourage further travel between the two countries. It’s a platform to engage the youth further with their roots and also facilitate cross-country connections. The Prime Minister of Israel’s visit to Mumbai in the coming days also holds hope and promise for the Jewish minority community in India. Increased connectivity will further encourage traffic between the two countries both for business and leisure.
Furthermore, the IOBI through the festival, is focused to launch the project of preserving, restoring and beautifying the existing monument at the spot at Navgaon, near Alibuag where their ancestors landed 2,000 years ago and received support of all the inhabitants of India; thereby turning it into a showcase of tolerance, experienced by the Jews in India. Adds Penkar, “We have appealed to all to join hands with us in this noble cause; which will tell the story of our arrival and existence in India to the Indians and the international visiting tourists.”
Throwing light on the history of the place and its people, John Perry, president, IOBI adds, “The Bene Israelis of India have a distinct past. Their forefathers arrived in India 2,000 years ago. While they were sailing in a commercial ship from the Land of Israel to India, the ship wrecked near Navgaon – the western coast of Konkan. The sole survivors of the shipwreck were 14 people – seven men and seven women; and the Bene Israelis are the descendants of these seven families.
Now, though the Bene Israeli Jews from India have spread to all corners of the world, they and their descendants continue to maintain their strong bonds of friendship and admiration with India. Adding to his thoughts, Ezriel Penkar, VP, IOBI says, “Since, now most of us are in Israel and other countries of the world, a few questions that loom larger over us are: Will we continue our commitment for India and for each other in the centuries to come? Will we allow our institutions in India for which our forefathers have toiled to become extinct or will we do our best to preserve and strengthen them so that our descendants can visit them and be inspired by our rich heritage? The answers to these questions lie in what we do now.”
Hence the sole purpose to setting up IOBI was promote, interaction and cooperation amongst the Bene Israeli Jews from India and other countries of the world; and to strengthen relations, foster solidarity and preserve the cultural heritage of the Bene Israelis, adds Jonathan Solomon, chairman, IOBI.
Along with the Indian Jewish Federation (IJF), IOBI’s first ever International Festival of Bene Israelis is being held on January 15, 2018, 6.00 pm onwards, at Sir Elly Kadoorie High School, Mumbai. The event will host approximately 450-500 Bene Israelis and persons of Bene Israeli descent from Israel, India, the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand and all other countries as well.