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January 09, 2004 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-01-09

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Israel Indian S t yle

Numerous businesses cater to Israelis. In the village of
Rishikesh, a Hindu spiritual center, restaurants with
names such as Jerusalem, Haifa or Kna'an offer
humus, falafel and shakshuka (eggs with onions and
tomatoes), along with "Israeli" dishes such as chicken
tika rolled in pita bread. Yoga and meditation classes
are often held in Hebrew
In Varansi, silk shops compete with Hebrew signs
and names, such as Asi from Varanasi and Baba
One shop owner, who adopted the name David,
advertises in Hebrew that "My silk is better than my
But his Hebrew is surprisingly fluent and — like
many other shop owners — he uses it to lure passing
customers. Even rikshaw drivers who probably can't
read their own language know many Hebrew phrases
and readily recite the names of Israeli TV stars and
fashion models.
However, it's not only efforts by people in the
tourist trade that make Israelis feel so comfortable in
India. It is also the sympathy and respect they get

from people they meet along the way.
For example, many Indians say they have a lot to
learn from Israel, mentioning everything from high-
tech irrigation methods and Israel's version of the
U.S. F-16 fighter to the late Prime Minister Golda
When Ravi Jain, a 23-year-old engineer with the
Indian corporate giant Tata, heard I was from Israel,
his reply was: "Oh, then I will have to shake your
hands twice."
Jain says he has read many books about Israel and
admires "the way you built your nation in just 50
years. Israelis are such hard-working people. Your
country is so small, yet so powerful."
Jain says he feels Israel and India have a common
history, and that "India should look to Israel for ways
of dealing with its Muslim community and protect-
ing the border with Pakistan."

Escape To India

But Aviv Kugel, 30, came to India to get away from
politics. She says she's in the midst of a spiritual jour-

ney. She is also seven months pregnant and doesn't
mind giving birth in India if no airline will fly her
back home.
"My parents are going crazy; they can't understand
why I don't have a 9 to 5 job, why I prefer to live
here, wearing rags and growing rasta hair," she said
with a charming smile.
Kugel looks back at her past life, when she still had
feminine curly hair, a job and car. "I was a TV pro-
ducer by day and bartender by night, and after a few
years of living the crazy Tel Aviv life, I felt like my
battery ran out."
So she decided to go to India. "I was sure I would
be back home soon, but my life has changed."
Over the past three years, Kugel has spent half of
every year in India, studying yoga and ayurvedic
"Everyone in Israel wants to know what I am look-
ing for here. It's always the same question. They
demand to know what gave me the right to leave the
`reality' back horn
- e and 'escape' to India. I try to tell
them I have found a new way of living, where I don't
PASSAGE on page 34

India To Detroit




Ibert Abraham may make his
home in Oak Park, but his
roots and childhood memo-
ries are in Calcutta.
"I have held onto pictures and books
I took out of India almost 40 years
ago," he said. 'And I still cook Iraqi-
Indian style, since my grandfather was
from Baghdad."
Abraham left Calcutta with his par-
ents and brothers in 1965. "Most who
left along with us immigrated to
England and Australia, with a few corn-
ing to the United States," he said. "My
family went to Israel."
A job transfer brought Abraham to
Michigan in 1990.
"My earliest memories of India are
what my parents told me," he said. "I
was a World War II baby — born in
`44 — and my parents said every time
there was an air raid siren, they would
grab me and hide me under the bed."
But in general, Abraham's life in
Calcutta was peaceful. "There was no
anti-Semitism at all, ever," he said.
"Jews lived very well and were never ill-

treated. Now, too, relations between
India and Israel are very strong diplo-
Abraham remembers living in com-
fort. "We lived in an area near the
Russian and American embassies, where
I used to hang Out and collect stamps,"
he said.
The family of Abraham's rabbi,
Michael Cohen of Keter Torah
Synagogue in West Bloomfield, lived in
the same community "My parents were
born and married in Calcutta, which
was a close-knit, affluent Jewish com-
munity," Rabbi Cohen said.
But all around there was poverty
"There was a strong cast system," he
said. "I remember my father telling me
that when he was a kid, he ran inside
his large home to have the servants get
rice from the cook to give to a woman
starving on the front steps. When he
came back outside, she had died."
In 1951, Rabbi Cohen's parents left
India for England, where he was born.
"Most Jews began to leave around the
time India gained independence from
the British in 1947," he said. "When
the British were in control, things were
fine. But independence brought the


Hindu-Muslim civil
war. The Jews were
fearful of being caught
in the middle — like

What's Left

Abraham remembers
Calcutta's two large
synagogues — Ma.gen
David and Beth El —
that are still operating.
Ara ,
"They were much
photos of hisfamily in•Cakutta.
more beautiful than
any other synagogues
anywhere," he said.
"The concrete walls on
ed dwindling many years ago, so they
the outside of the buildings had hand-
started taking non-Jewish kids. Today,
carved biblical scenes — like a muse-
they are most probably gone."
um. I wish I could afford to uproot the
Abraham would love to return to his
synagogues and move them to Israel."
homeland, and take his willing rabbi --
Abraham said the synagogues are
who has never been to India — with
b eing used y only a handful of Jews
today "When I lived there, they used to
Abraham has cousins in Bombay and
be full of people," he said. "The syna-
Calcutta with whom he keeps in touch.
gogue was the center of the Jewish
"They may live in a pOor country, but
the people are happy there. My cousins
Abraham fears Calcutta's Jewish
tell me if I come there to visit, I won't
schools have closed. "Enrollment start-
want to leave." ❑


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