Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bene Israel Community of India

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A Star of David on the sign at the entrance to Mavgav, the oldest cemetery of about 2000 years of the Bene-Israel community in India


Photo and original text from the film "Legends of the Lost Tribes" courtesy of my good friend Aran Patinkin who directed the film


                   Somewhere in the ocean of time, dozens of generations ago, perhaps hundreds, or perhaps never, seven men and seven women managed to survive a mighty storm upon the earthly seas.  These survivors, says the ancient tale, are the ancestors of the Bene Israel community of India.  Some claim that they were refugees who fled the Galilee to escape the evil decrees of King Antiochus.  Others say they were sailors from the Tribe of Zebulun, in the service of King Solomon, who sought ivory, peacocks, monkeys and other exotic delights

                   The so-called realists contend that the Bene Israel are Jews who escaped Arabia or Persia as Islam's star began to rise.  Why is this version more realistic?  God only knows When the storm died down, the survivors beheld the Konkan Coast, a fertile and hospitable land.  They buried their dead at a site near the village of Nawgaon that later became the community's cemetery. Here, they erected a monument recounting community history The Bene Israel were isolated from the rest of the Jewish world.  They did not have synagogues or sacred writings.  The only Hebrew prayer they remembered was Shema Israel, Hear, O Israel,” that they recite with great devotion, and the only biblical precepts they observed were circumcision and the Sabbath...

                   In the eighteenth century, a Jewish merchant, David Rehavi, met the Bene Israel by chance.  At first, he was not at all certain that they were indeed Jews, so he tested them, offering their women several kinds of fish to prepare.  When he saw that they chose only the kosher varieties, he was convinced of the authenticity of their faith and decided to bring them into mainstream Judaism.

                    The synagogues built in Bene Israel villages during the nineteenth century soon became vibrant centers of community life.

                   Now that most of the community has moved to Israel, the synagogues are virtually abandoned".



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