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Now in India: A glimpse of the 2,000-year history of the Jews

Published : Sep 26, 2016, 5:29 am IST
Updated : Sep 26, 2016, 5:29 am IST

Dignitaries attending the exhibition “People, Book, Land: The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with The Holy Land” at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. The New Delhi exhibition, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, will be open till October 10.

Dignitaries attending the exhibition “People, Book, Land: The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with The Holy Land” at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. The New Delhi exhibition, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, will be open till October 10.

No race in history has been persecuted and suffered as much as the Jewish people. For 2,000 years they have been scattered across the globe living as exiles in lands where they have often been despised, oppressed and killed. The history of this sad legacy and the centrality of Judaism, the religion that has held Jews together since time immemorial, are the subject of an exhibition in New Delhi.

Organised by a leading Los Angeles based Jewish human rights NGO, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the exhibition “traces the 35 centuries of the Jewish people’s relationship with its land, emphasising the universal and particularistic values that inspired the unique journey of the Jewish people throughout history and inspired Jews to retain an unbreakable bond and love for their ancestral homeland.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, who is in New Delhi, says “It is appropriate that the Asia launch of this exhibit take place in New Delhi as the Jewish people know that throughout history they have always been welcomed by the people of India We are thrilled that so many in Indian society will have an opportunity to learn about the Jewish People, its values and its land.” The exhibition, which is supported by the Unesco, has been helped in India by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. The focus of the exhibition, as Rabbi Cooper explains, is to highlight “values, fundamental rights and humanity throughout Jewish history. It serves as a learning tool in the struggle against a rising tide of anti-Semitism and barbarity.”

The Rabbi talked about the importance of the exhibition and its relevance to India.

Rabbi, why did you choose India as a venue for your exhibition We chose India as the first venue for our exhibition in Asia in recognition of India’s pivotal role in the region and because of India’s historic friendship for and acceptance of the Jewish people and the absence of any anti-Semitism in Indian society.

What do you assume Indians will take away from it An appreciation for a unique love story of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel; of exile, perseverance and return and an understanding of the core spiritual values of the Jews.

A major focus of the exhibition appears to be on the concept of “tolerance” as practiced by Jews from ancient times. Could you elaborate on this The Nation of Israel was born out of the crucible of slavery and suffering in Ancient Egypt. Our Torah (Bible) admonishes Jews in every generation to remember the times in history when we were strangers, and to show compassion and understanding when confronted with people who come from different cultures

Tolerance is a requisite for civilised societies but what is an individual or a nation to do if others do not subscribe to the view India and Israel live in tough neighbourhoods. As democracies, the first responsibility of the leaders of society is to safeguard the lives of its nation. If others see that we have the physical, spiritual, and moral strength, then the hopes for tolerance, mutual understanding and peace are enhanced.

Strife arising out of intolerance appears to be on the increase worldwide, how is the Jewish community worldwide responding to this It is said that anti-Semitism is history’s oldest hate. It is surging across Europe, especially where there are significant communities of Muslim immigrants as well as far-right extremists. Every synagogue, every Jewish school in many European countries must use armed guards. Many of these historic communities, including France are seeing significant migration to Israel.

The continuing growth of lone wolf terrorism is also of grave concern to Jewish communities in the US. Needless to say, Jews will be safer when our societies are able to defeat terrorists and defeat their hateful ideologies.

There is a great reservoir of good will in India towards Israel. Is this sentiment reciprocated In my experience, yes, but both sides can and should do more to get to know each other better. Visits to Israel and India will help create thousands of ambassadors for this good will.

How do you think a greater awareness of Judaism and its principles help Indians deal with Israel and the worldwide Jewish community It’s the Jewish values that sustained our hopes and deepened our commitment to a Jewish future, even when we were scattered to the four corners of the world. The land of Israel is not just a parcel of real estate, it is a portal and platform for a people to pursue its destiny through these magnificent values, many of which resonate with all people for whom spiritually and ethics are central to their world view.

Jews worldwide base their faith on ancient books, laws and thoughts. Yet this does not appear to prevent them from being at the Avant guard of science and technology. How is that because most traditional faiths tend to drag down scientific thought and open ideologies Technologies are neutral tools, not sources of worship or veneration. The age-old challenges of how we treat aging parents, how we teach our children, how we approach issues of war and peace, of power and equity, those questions have never changed of thousands of years-they define the human condition.

The state of Israel is often viewed as oppressing Arabs and Palestinians. Yet as much as 20 per cent of its population is Arab. How does this fit together I recently met the Arab member of Israel’s Supreme Court. He is a proud Israeli and proud (Christian) Arab. Israeli Arabs have full rights as Jewish citizens.

The Palestinian issue is more complex but I do not believe it is at its core about territory—there is plenty of room for both people. But Palestinian leaders instead of pursuing a peaceful course and preparing the next generation to build a future state to stand in peace with its Jewish neighbour, they still peddle victimhood and violence

Israel and India cooperate in many areas, especially in science and technology, agriculture and so on. Is this special to the Israel-India relationship or is Israel reaching out more and more to the rest of the world India and Israel continue to develop and deepen state-to-state relationships, which of course we welcome. But there is even greater potential for growth through people to people exchange. The Wiesenthal Center is committed through this exhibition and other activities to help expand these wonderful opportunities.