Who Are the Jews of India? by Nathan Katz
Of all the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the Indian Jews were among the oldest and perhaps the most interesting. They adjusted without assimilating within the larger culture and were not persecuted in any way by the majority Hindu community. Nathan Katz's book, "Who Are the Jews of India?" is an in-depth account of the history of Indian Jews. For those who are interested in learning about this once tiny (now fast disappearing) but influential community, Katz's book will be a rich source of information. Attractive black and white photographs accompany the text.
Within a year of each other, India gained independence from Britain and Israel was established as a Jewish state. After these two events, the majority of Indian Jews left for Israel, UK, Australia and other places. Despite the presence of some prominent Jews on the Indian cultural scene of my youth (poet Nissim Ezekiel, actors David Abraham and Nadira, cartoonist Abu Abraham) and a Jewish distant cousin in my family, I never paid much attention to the history and heritage of Indian Jews until much later. Actually, not until I became acquainted with Jews in America.
To paraphrase historian Bernard Lewis, Judaism flourished in Europe and the Islamic world not inspite of but BECAUSE of the hostility of the Christian and the Muslim hosts (Christians being much more brutal than Muslims). Lewis concludes that it was the fear and the adversity of living as a beleaguered minority that lent vibrancy to Judaism and its scholarship in Europe and the middle east. He goes on to assert that in China and India, two countries where Jews were welcome and remained unmolested by the majority culture, Judaism atrophied and assimilated into the host culture. Katz argues the opposite - that it was precisely the welcome and respect accorded to Indian Jews that enabled them to continue being fully observant Jews while being respectful of the host nation's religions and culture. According to Katz, "Indian Jews lived as all Jews should have been allowed to live: free, proud, observant, creative and prosperous, self-realized, full contributors to the host community. Then, when twentieth century conditions permitted they returned en masse to Israel, which they had always proclaimed to be their true home despite India's hospitality. The Indian chapter is one of the happiest of the Jewish Diaspora." Whatever the truth, Nathan Katz paints India as an idyllic and tranquil haven within the turbulent and sometimes tragic Jewish history - somewhat like the present day USA.