VICTORIA AND ABDUL *Star Interview and Full Review*

Judi Dench has played so many queens that she should be honorary British royalty.  In Victoria & Abdul, the time period is 1887 and Queen Victoria (Dench) is floundering.  The most powerful woman in the world, she languishes from personal loss, sleeps through her own banquets and suffers the indignity of reporting her bowel movements.

Enter Abdul (Ali Fazal)–literally.  He’s honored with the job of presenting a ceremonial Indian coin to Queen Victoria alongside Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), a last-minute fill in who wants nothing to do with the task.  Following an arduous journey from India, the pair receive strict instructions about protocol.  They are props just as much as the coin.

After giving Queen Victoria the coin and backing away as etiquette dictates, Abdul breaks convention and locks eyes with the monarch.  A tense moment ensues: how will she react?  Declaring him handsome, the queen decides both men should stay and thus marks the beginning of their relationship over the final 15 years of the queen’s life.

The chemistry between Dench and Fazal is integral to the course of the film and the pair’s on-screen ambiguous relationship.  Why exactly is Queen Victoria so taken with Abdul, whom she elevates from servant to teacher/advisor over the course of their years together?  Is it a matter of physical attraction or something more?

There’s a beautiful moment in the film when the queen and Abdul dance together on the verandah.  An interview with Fazal reveals the words were scripted, but the action was not.  He says director Stephen Frears asked them to dance while saying their lines, a move that results in Fazal beginning by reaching out rather gracelessly–an entirely real moment that appears in the final cut of the film.

What didn’t make it into the film?  Dench and Fazal slapping their faces as a multitude of mosquitoes swarm them in a boat.  Fazal says even coming from a country like India where the pests are everywhere, these were intolerable.  The scene with the boat remains in the film, though Fazal can’t help but laugh in memory at the outtakes.

For more about Victoria & Abdul directly from Ali Fazal, along with a discussion about themes and symbolism in the film, take a look below:

—>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Focus Features.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hug each other after reading their joint statement at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

Looking for ‘history’? Try the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Israel

Have a happy July Fourth. Here are three comments on countries that are not celebrating Independence today – but are celebrating other things.


Today is a historic day. You might not know this, as you might be too busy with thinking about other things – primaries in Israel’s Labor Party, another tweet from President Trump, the aftermath of the Kotel crisis. But you ought to pause and recognize the significance of this day – the day in which, for the first time, an Indian Prime Minister visits Israel. The day in which the perpetual warnings about Israel’s declining diplomatic status seem somewhat outdated, or at least doubtful.

A few days ago, JPPI released a book by Shalom Wald and Arielle Kandel on India, Israel and the Jewish People. It is a long and comprehensive discussion of these relations. I chose one long paragraph from the book that is the most relevant for a historic day like today: It talks about the person who is visiting Israel – Prime Minister Narenda Modi – and his ability to alter the long-term trajectory of India-Israel relations.

The question, then, is whether Modi’s victory represents a watershed in Indo-Israeli relations that will become permanent. A look at long-term trends cannot give a final answer to this question, but they can indicate the main developments that must be watched.

One decisive trend is the future of the Muslim factor. India’s Muslim population may continue growing more rapidly than the majority Hindu population. Muslim political power may become determinant in a number of key states as power continues to shift from the central government to state governments. And more Muslims may become radicalized. If these trends materialize, India’s new Israel policy may not be sustainable in the long term.  

However, against these – only possible, not certain – trends stand the deep socio-economic changes that explain Modi’s victory. He won the elections with the massive support of India’s young and of India’s middle and lower middle classes who ignored or rejected the traditional warning of India’s elites and the Congress Party that voting for the BJP was anti-Muslim. This urban, mostly non-Muslim middle class, currently over 300 million people, is projected to exceed 500 million by 2025, and represents the main countervailing trend to the possible growth of Islam in India. This middle class is modern, Western in outlook, and (with the exception of some intellectuals) not interested in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict. This middle class is partly indifferent, and partly sympathetic to Israel.

Modi’s victory demolished a long-held taboo in Indian politics: until 2014, it was taken for granted that a friend of Israel and the Jews – as Modi is known to be – could not become India’s leader because of Muslim constraint. With the Muslim deterrent power thus eroding, at least in the short and medium terms, other Indian politicians are likely to regard Israel in a new light.


And to less important news: the Labor Party is electing a new leader today. In fact, as of this morning, it seems more likely that it will only elect the two front runners that will later have to go through another round of elections.

The list of candidates is solid, but not exciting. The question looming over this election is whether the next leader’s main job will be to put the party to rest and preside over its further decline – or whether this next leader will find a way to carve a new path for this party.

What is the source of the Labor party’s decline? I’d count four main reasons. Its pool of voters is dwindling, its message is unclear and often garbled, other parties now occupy the territory that was once Labor’s territory, and its image is one of a losing party. Can any of the competing candidates solve these problems? The answer is that some candidates hope to attract new voters from different demographics – but their message is unclear. Some candidates have a clearer message – but would not be attractive to new voters. Some candidates don’t yet have the image of losers – but also don’t have the experience that could make voters comfortable with their ability to lead the country.

Thus, the election today is the beginning of a process, not the end of it. This will be a process of exploration of opportunities: Can the party be a part of a larger bloc of parties and groups aiming to topple Prime Minister Netanyahu? Can the party and its newly minted leader draw attractive candidates to join its ranks? Can the party exploit the weaknesses of the ruling coalition and convince the voters that a different coalition is even feasible?


Kotel news: a chapter from the study I am working on (with Dr. John Ruskay) on Jerusalem and the Jewish People was just published. It explains why Israel’s decision to cancel its commitment concerning the Kotel compromise elicited a sense of betrayal. This begins with the fact that Jews around the world – whether Israelis like it or not – believe that they have the right to be taken into account when decisions concerning the future of Jerusalem are made:

Diaspora Jews want to be considered in decisions made by Israel…. the more the question concerns “Jewish” themes the more inclined s/he was to want Israel to consider Diaspora views. Thus, the expectation that Diaspora viewpoints be considered… in shaping the cultural future of Jerusalem was higher than in shaping its political future.

The Kotel compromise is about the cultural future of Jerusalem. 51% of the Jews who participated in JPPI dialogue sessions told us Israel should “consider the views of non-Israeli Jews, mostly because Jerusalem is the Holy City of all Jews.”

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, India, on their way to the airport, Feb. 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

These incredible photos show members of an Indian-Jewish ‘lost tribe’ moving to Israel

One hundred and two members of the Jewish community in India, who trace their heritage to one of Israel’s lost tribes, are moving to Israel this week.

The immigrants, who hail from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram — home to the second largest concentration of the country’s Bnei Menashe community, as they are called — will arrive in Israel on Tuesday and Thursday. The move is being facilitated by Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that seeks to connect “lost” and “hidden” Jews to the Jewish state.

The group plans to live in the city of Nazareth Illit, where other members of their community have already settled. Some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have immigrated to Israel in recent years, with another 7,000 remaining in India.

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, India, Feb. 12. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

Their move represents the first time in three years that members of the Bnei Menashe community from Mizoram have moved to Israel, according to a statement by Shavei Israel.

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, en route to Israel, Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

“After 27 centuries of exile, this lost tribe of Israel is truly coming home,” said Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund. “But we will not rest until all the remaining Bnei Menashe still in India are able to make aliyah as well.”

Freund, a conservative writer and former aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said his organization was hoping to bring more than 700 Jews from India to Israel this year.

Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gathering in Churachandpur, in the Indian state of Manipur to celebrate Hanukkah, Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.


Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gather in Churachandpur, in the state of Manipur, to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.


Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gather in Churachandpur, in the state of Manipur, to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

India’s Jews renew push for official minority status

India’s approximately 5,000-member Jewish community is renewing its request for official government recognition as a minority group, submitting an application to the country’s minority affairs ministry.

Official recognition would make it easier for Jews to register marriages, establish educational institutions and “practice and promote our culture,” Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, the Delhi Jewish community’s head, told IANS, which reported on the application Tuesday. The news service did not say when the community’s previous application was made or why it was unsuccessful.

India has six official minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Jains.

“Jews have been part of the Indian society for 2,300 years now. But post independence, we have not been recognized as a minority,” Malekar said.

India won independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

India close to $3 billion arms deal with Israel

India is nearing final approval to buy $3 billion worth of arms from Israel.

The deal would make Israel one of the top-three arms suppliers to the world’s second-most populous country, according to the Times of India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who plans to visit Israel later this year, is waiting for a cabinet committee to approve the deal.

Under the deal’s terms, Israe; and India would jointly develop a surface-to-air missile system for the Indian Army. Israel would also sell India lasers and bunker-busting bombs.

Since Modi was elected in 2014, relations between the two countries have warmed. Netanyahu and Modi have met and spoken multiple times, and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel last year.

With Israeli-EU relations strained, Netanyahu looks toward Asia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, sat kiddy-corner in armchairs at this week’s international climate summit near Paris, talking and laughing.

“We have the best of relations, and they can be made even better,” Netanyahu told Modi at the meeting.

To which Modi responded, “I am happy that often we can talk easily on telephone, we can discuss everything.”

A brief encounter between Netanyahu and European Union foreign policy envoy Federica Mogherini was far frostier. Mogherini approached Netanyahu in the hallway, and they shared little more than a handshake.

The contrast reflects an Israeli warming to the East, just as its relations with Europe have cooled amid disagreements over the peace process and Iran’s nuclear program. In recent years, trade between Israel and Asia has shot up, while Israel and Asian powers have made diplomatic overtures toward each other. And even as Israel’s strongest diplomatic ties remain with the West, there are signs of a pivot eastward.

Israel is considering “an eastern option if things don’t go the right way with Europe and the United States,” Alon Liel, a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told JTA. “In the last year and a half, there wasn’t a peace process, and in Europe there was disappointment that there wasn’t a peace process.”

Israel has long had amicable relations with Europe, ranging from defense cooperation to economics. Today, the European Union collectively is Israel’s biggest export destination, and Israel competes in European athletic and cultural competitions such as soccer tournaments and the Eurovision musical competition.

The ties are also historical. Israel was founded on the European model of a democratic nation-state. Many of Israel’s citizens are of European descent.

Recently, those ties have deteriorated. Israel almost withdrew from the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, which funds scientific research and innovation,  due to a disagreement about funding projects in West Bank settlements. And it bristled at a French proposal this year to have the United Nations Security Council oversee Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

European-Israeli relations are at a low point now over recently released EU guidelines to label goods produced in Israeli settlements. Israel has lambasted the guidelines as approaching a boycott. In response, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has cut off all coordination with EU institutions on issues related to the peace process.

“We regret that the EU has chosen, for political reasons, to take such an exceptional and discriminatory step, inspired by the boycott movement,” read a Foreign Ministry statement on the labeling guidelines. “This recent step raises questions regarding the role that the EU aspires to play.”

Israeli relations with Asia, meanwhile, have been on the upswing. Israeli exports to Asian countries tripled between 2004 and 2014, totaling $16.7 billion last year — one-fifth of Israel’s total exports. Last year, Asia surpassed the United States as Israel’s second-biggest export destination behind Europe.

Meanwhile, Japan didn’t sell its cars in Israel until the 1990s in order to avoid a boycott in the Arab world. But last year, trade between Japan and Israel rose nearly 10 percent, to $1.75 billion. Israel also increased government grants for joint Israeli-Japanese research by 50 percent this year. Netanyahu also met with Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe in Paris this week.

Israel and China, which established formal relations only in 1992, are working on a free-trade agreement, and Netanyahu created an Israel-China task force within his office this year. Last year, Israel had a so-called “China Week,” when a variety of Chinese government officials and business leaders visited Israel.

India’s Modi has said he plans to visit as well. Meanwhile, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee traveled to Jerusalem in October, becoming the highest-ranking Indian official ever to come to Israel.

“We are very deeply part of the West in many, many ways, but we look to the East,” Netanyahu said at the state dinner during Mukherjee’s visit. “We appreciate Europe, but we admire Asia.”

In 2013, then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said during a visit to China that increased trade could open an avenue for “economic diplomacy” with the world’s most populous country. As opposed to Europe, Bennett said, Chinese companies don’t let the Israeli-Arab conflict get in the way of business.

“They never once asked us about the Arabs, or the Palestinians, or the occupation, or the shmoccupation, or anything else,” he said in a video statement. “The only thing that interests them is Israeli high-tech and Israeli innovation.”

India abstained from endorsing the U.N. report on last year’s war in Gaza, which accused Israel of possible war crimes. All European countries on the U.N. Human Rights Council, meanwhile, endorsed the report.

But analysts caution that Israel should not view India and China as alternatives diplomatically to Europe and the United States. Before Modi took office last year, India had historically been pro-Palestinian, supporting Palestinian causes in the United Nations, and Asian nations have generally taken less of an interest than Europe and the United States in Israeli foreign affairs.

While the U.S. has a longstanding policy of vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, China typically votes against Israel. Given the size of China’s economy, analysts say a few more billion dollars in Israeli trade likely won’t mean a Chinese veto.

“Economic relations are driven by the business sector, not because the government wants to give priority,” said Oded Eran, the former director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “We need to remember that China and India are very pragmatic, but they haven’t changed — and I doubt if they will change their vote in the U.N. because of improved economic relations.”

Ready, set, Goa in India

Rabbinic tradition has it that Hodu (“India” in Hebrew) is the word Yehudi (“Jew” in Hebrew), without the letter yod, which signifies the one God — suggesting that India possesses kindred spirituality to Judaism, minus the monotheism. Perhaps that is why the predominantly Hindu country has long provided a welcoming home-away-from-home for Israeli backpackers. 

Now India is evolving into a happening tourism spot for the clean-cut, young Israeli professional who simply wants to take a break from the stresses of Israeli life, with the coastal state of Goa leading the way after the “Hummus Trail” near Kasol in northern India. 

In the 1990s, this former Portuguese colony became branded as a trance-rave destination. Israelis flocked here for that post-army, psychedelic escape. These days, Israelis have found other exotic, inexpensive locales for their post-army detox, such as Central America and Vietnam, and the generation that came here to party hard in Goa decades ago is staking a new claim, older and wiser. 

Israeli-owned cafes and inns serve as unofficial consulates for the Holy Land. Goan beaches have become popular, dirt-cheap resort destinations for the discerning budget traveler. (And dirt cheap means $12-a-night bungalows that compromise Western standards of cleanliness — a trade-off that’s worth it, refreshing even.)

Goa is where you free yourself from the daily grind and learn to find joy in life’s simple pleasures, like a $1.50 papaya juice by the shore. Here are some destinations where Israelis have created a mini-outpost for the Jewish state where all MOTs should feel welcome. 

South Goa: Palolem Beach

Palolem is the beach of choice for the young professional and spoiled lost soul. Many Israelis land at this beachside community for R&R after more adventurous treks in rural and urban parts of the country. Goa’s sensitivity to Western cuisine (and plumbing) lead India regulars to remark: “Goa is not India.” 

The social, fun-loving Palolem is distinctly international, with British, German, French and Russian tourists shmoozing on recliners and cushions facing the calm sea. The place is ideal for European-Israeli diplomacy. It’s where Scandinavians bond with Israelis over playing cards, or Brits buy Israeli girls a drink (easy, considering cocktails cost $3.50). 

Every menu features Israeli comfort foods — from Israeli salad to schnitzel. Café Inn is a popular Israeli establishment on the main road serving salad-heavy Israeli breakfasts, laffas and shipudim (Israeli grilled meat). There’s also Crystal Goa, founded last year by a British Jew named David Tomkins, who retired in his mid-30s from a career in finance so he could travel, only to end up working 60 hours a week running his own Goan restaurant. As for places to stay, Jewish intellectuals should feel at home at the artsy haven Cozy Nook, where the Catholic owner, Agnelo “Aggy” D’Costa, will, like a true guru, indulge guests with talk of philosophy, religion and healing.

Bear in mind, though, when making your travel arrangements that most of the seasonal bungalows are made of plywood and straw because beachside inns disassemble for summer monsoons.

North Goa: Anjuna and Arambol beaches

Drive more than two hours north of Palolem and you’ll find Anjuna and Arambol — busier, grungier beach communities that are frequented by aging hippies, stoners and substance-seekers. “Cold” turf wars between Israelis and Russians — and an electronic music party scene — ward off the yuppies. Still, Anjuna’s Wednesday souk (marketplace) is worth a visit, as is a drink at Curlies Shack, an institution. 

Israelis have made a community in Arambol. Signs in Hebrew advertise yoga classes and mopeds for sale. Shopkeepers greet tourists with “Shalom” to lure business.

A convenient, familiar place to land is Mama Café and Inn, founded by Inbal “Big Mama” Asher and her Nepali boyfriend. It was named such because the 28-year old Israeli founder practically adopted her Israeli and Jewish guests. She has since moved back to Israel, and turned over the inn to a Nepali friend, while still giving her motherly guidance to the new owner. Along the main road, Secret Bistro Garden, also Israeli-owned, will satisfy anyone longing for a vegan-friendly Tel Aviv-style cafe.


An eight-hour ride from Goa on a nighttime sleeper bus (get the AC option!), Hampi is a delightful detour. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has morphed into a rustic tourist destination thanks to Israeli explorers. Villagers and Israelis have forged economic and cultural bonds that have turned this former Hindu empire stronghold into one of the most welcoming enclaves for the hiker, adventurer and seeker.

Stacked, pastel-colored boulders form natural fortresses around the mystical city, with the cobalt blue of the Tungabhadra River slithering through the hills, emitting calm. Columns and statues of Hindu gods from ancient temples lie in gorgeous ruin throughout the countryside, blessing Hampi with a sense of eternity. 

But the people of the one God have solidly introduced monotheism. Chabad has set up camp for Israelis, with black-hatters strolling among Indian women wearing fuchsia saris as shopkeepers play Israeli pop. 

Be sure to visit the Monkey Temple, a Hindu site that is still active on a hill named after the monkey gods. Monkeys will literally eat out of your hand as you take in the breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view. Or, if you’re interested in creatures of a different sort, check out what travelers have dubbed the “bird sanctuary.” Hike to the top for another exquisite view — the lone shepherd will move the cows out of your way in exchange for enough rupees to buy a beer. 

Mowgli Guest House offers round huts and concrete rooms with its cafe overlooking livestock fields and the river for a meditative morning coffee, but budget travelers craving a homey, Israeli scene can opt for the aptly named Shesh Besh (“backgammon” in Hebrew).

Rent a moped for $1.50 a day, but ride with caution — muffler burns (and worse) are common. Then cruise around to places such as Sunset Point, where Israelis gather for a drumming circle, or get lost — purposefully.

India turns to Israel for armed drones as Pakistan, China build fleets

India has accelerated plans to buy drones from Israel that can be armed, defence sources said, allowing the military to carry out strikes overseas with less risk to personnel.

The news comes weeks after long-time rival Pakistan first reported using a home-made drone in combat when it attacked militants on its soil, raising the prospect of a new front in the nuclear-armed neighbours' standoff over Kashmir that has twice spilled into war.

The plan to acquire Israeli Herons was first conceived three years ago, but in January the military wrote to the government asking for speedy delivery, the sources said, as Pakistan and China develop their own drone warfare capabilities.

India has already deployed Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the rugged mountains of Kashmir for surveillance, as well as on the disputed border with China where the two armies have faced off against each other.

In September, the Indian government approved the air force's request to acquire 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that can be fitted with weapons to engage targets on the ground, an air force official with knowledge of the matter said.

He added that he expected the agreement to be inked soon. The Indian Defence Ministry declined to comment.

The plan to buy Herons in a deal estimated at $400 million would open the option of covert cross-border strikes.

Currently the two armies exchange fire across the de facto Kashmir border at times of tension, but do not cross the Line of Control (LoC) by land or air.

“It's risky, but armed UAVs can be used for counter insurgency operations internally as well across the borders; sneak attacks on terrorist hideouts in mountainous terrain, perhaps,” said an army officer in the defence planning staff.


Gurmeet Kanwal, a former head of the government-funded Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said the armed Herons due to enter Indian service by late 2016 will give the air force deep-strike capability.

The United States has carried out hundreds of drone strikes inside Pakistan, targeting al Qaeda and other militants in its northwest. Pakistan has allowed such targeted killings, even though it complains about them in public.

Indian drones, in contrast, face being shot down as soon as they show up on Pakistani radars, the army officer and Kanwal said.

Deniability would be essential in any use of armed drones by India and Pakistan across their bitterly contested border, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading weapons proliferation expert in Pakistan.

“It is likely that drones would be used in a surreptitious mode close to the LoC, far away from populated areas,” he said.

In July, the Pakistan army said it had shot down a small Indian spy drone in Kashmir. India did not comment.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia specialist at the Washington D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the arrival of lethal drones in the region could heighten mutual suspicion at a time when ties are strained.

“Pakistan might worry that India could use an armed drone to attack terrorist safe havens in Pakistan or to target a specific terrorist there.”

“India might worry that Pakistan will now be tempted to add drones to its repertoire of asymmetric warfare tactics it has used against India.”

Only the United States, Israel and Britain are known to have used armed drones in combat, although more than 70 countries have UAVs with surveillance capabilities, according to New America, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

China has no public strategy for armed drone development, but it has poured resources into UAVs and has shown them off at exhibitions. Chinese combat drones still lag far behind the Israeli-made ones in terms of capability, military experts say.


A delegation from state-owned IAI has been holding talks with the Indian defence ministry to determine the possibility of local manufacture of the Heron TP as part of the “Make-in-India” programme, IHS Jane's said.

Israel does not confirm or deny using or producing armed drones. IAI declined comment on the proposed sale of the Herons, as did Israel's Defence Ministry, which oversees such arms exports.

IAI is one of several Israeli companies manufacturing drones or related technologies.

At least one of them has sold armed drones to a foreign country other than India, a person involved in the deal said, without elaborating on the client, model or manufacturer of the aircraft.

Such deals are handled directly between the governments of Israel and the purchasing country, with mutual secrecy agreements, the person added.

It is not clear what kind of weapons will be fitted to the Heron TPs that India plans to buy.

India has been trying to develop its own combat drone, but the defence research organisation has struggled to integrate a missile onto the proposed Rustom series of UAVs.

David Harari, a retired IAI engineer and Israel Prize winner for his pioneering work in drone development, said India could mount its own weaponry on an Israeli supplied drone, helped by close technological cooperation between the two countries.

Israel and India in throes of a new romance

This article firsta ppeared on The Media Line.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian head of state to visit Israel, in the latest demonstration of the growing romance between Israel and India. Arms sales are on the increase, and India even recently abstained from a vote condemning Israel at the Human Rights Council.

India is the largest buyer of Israeli defense equipment, especially drones. Of the total of eight billion dollars of Israeli arms exports abroad, $2.5- $3 billion dollars is sent to India.

“All top three Israeli defense providers – Israeli Aerospace Industries, Elbit and Rafael all have large offices and a large presence in India,” David Keinan, vice chairman of the Indo-Israel Chamber of Commerce told The Media Line. “India is the largest customer for different equipment from Israel and Israel is the second-largest total provider of equipment into Israel after Russia.”

Earlier this year, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited India and attended the Aero India Defense Trade Exhibition in Bangalore. The two countries are cooperating on producing the Barak 8 Air and Missile Defense System that will be used by both the Israeli navy and Indian army.

In addition, Israel and India have a total volume of bilateral trade of almost $4.4 billion and the two countries are negotiating an extensive bilateral trade agreement. There are also extensive agricultural exchanges.

“We have set up 28 centers of excellence in nine states in India,” Ohad Horsandi, the spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in New Dehli told The Media Line. “We bring Israeli technology and adapt it to local conditions in India. Yields of fruits and vegetables have increased by at least five times as much in these areas.”

There are at least 600,000 farmers among India’s population of 1.25 billion people. Horsandi says they are reaching only a “drop in the sea, but it’s a significant drop.”

Agricultural products are also high on the list of goods traded between India and Israel. Israel imports cashews and mangoes and exports fertilizer and other chemicals to India. The total trade reaches hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Politically, India has a mixed record as far as Israel is concerned. India has long supported a Palestinian state, and hosts a Palestinian embassy. About 20 percent of India’s population is Muslim, who live alongside the majority Hindus.

Israeli officials were pleasantly surprised when India abstained from this month’s vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Israel’s conduct during last summer’s war with the Islamist Hamas movement. Israel’s Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon quickly tweeted that “we appreciate votes by members of the UNHRC including India who did not support yet another anti-Israel bashing resolution. We thank them.”

Not surprisingly the Palestinian Ambassador to India was furious. Speaking to The Hindu newspaper he called the decision “shocking” and said the unwelcome policy shift has been “affected by the burgeoning military relationship with Israel.”

The ties are being strengthened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has a strong relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The two men met earlier this year at the UN, and speak frequently by phone, according to Israeli Embassy spokesman Horsandi.

When Netanyahu won re-election in March, after a closely-fought election, Modi tweeted his congratulations in English and Hebrew, referring to the Prime Minister by his nickname “Bibi.” Modi visited Israel in 2006, as part of a delegation of officials working in agriculture and started ties with Israeli companies that brought technology like drip irrigation to India.

“Modi is a foreign relations phenomenon. He has a relationship with whoever he meets,” Keinan said, adding that there are rumors that Modi and Netanyahu have actually met several times previously, not just once.

There have been tensions in the relationship as well. During last summer’s war there were protests in India over Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza. In 2008, six people were killed at the Chabad house in Mumbai, part of series of coordinated terrorist attacks.

Israel’s pivot eastwards comes amid tensions with US President Barack Obama, as well as with European countries over Israel’s policies to expand Jewish communities on land Israel acquired in 1967, as well as the lack of any negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel would like diplomatic back-up and is turning to China and India for that support.

Israel says security ties with India out of the closet

Israel's security relationship with India is out in the open after years of being under wraps, the Israeli defense minister said on Thursday, vowing to play a bigger role in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's drive to build an industrial base.

Israel has emerged as one of India's top three arms suppliers, delivering items such as ship defense missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, but such transactions have been unpublicized, largely because of India's fear of upsetting Arab countries and its own large Muslim population.

But Modi, whose nationalist party has long seen Israel has a natural ally against Islamist militancy, has openly cultivated warmer ties, beginning with a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York last year.

Since then, various government ministers and top officials have been exchanging visits and on Wednesday, Moshe Ya'alon arrived in India, the first visit by an Israeli defense minister since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1992.

“We used to have our relationship, security wise, behind the scene,” he said in a speech in New Delhi after attending an airshow in Bengaluru.

“And now I am here … in Delhi to meet Prime Minister Modi and other ministers.”

The visit comes as the two sides hold talks on a major deal for the supply of two airborne early warning radars to be mounted on India's Russian-made aircraft.

Three such Phalcon AWACS that give the air force the “eyes in the sky” to detect flight movements across a wide arc were inducted in 2004, signaling the beginning of a strategic partnership.

Israel was dissuaded from selling the same system to China because of pressure from the United States, officials said.

Ya'alon said Israel was ready to share defense technology with India.

“We see India as a partner and a friend. That is why we are ready to share technology,” he said, adding that he was looking for ways to upgrade the defense relationship.

Under Modi, India has speeded up an arms modernization drive to counter the rising weight of China, but the government wants to cut dependence on foreign supplies and instead build a domestic industrial base under a Make-in-India drive.

East meets West for UC Grad at Asian Chabads

Like many newly minted American college graduates, Liad Braude, a 22-year-old UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) alumnus, chose to travel instead of going straight into the workforce. However, unlike his peers who were buying round-the-world tickets, packing for European trips or strapping on their backpacks for budget jaunts through South America, Braude embarked on a road less traveled, opting instead to spend a year volunteering in Chabads across India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

When I caught up with Braude in Hanoi, Vietnam, the bearded young man who stood before me was a world away — both physically and spiritually — from the beer-guzzling Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity boy I had befriended five years before at college. Months ago, when we shared a farewell in Israel, neither of us had any idea where his trip would take him. 

Braude left on a one-way ticket for India hoping to go to the East to further his yoga studies. Born in South Africa and raised in San Diego, he first saw his path diverging from the norm during his junior year at UCSB, when he credits his highly creative roommates, who were “artists, musicians, fire spinners and cooking enthusiasts,” with influencing his overall direction. During that time, he traded in his six-days-a-week gym routine for rigorous yoga-and-meditation training and pursued individual studies in the religious studies department. Raised deeply Jewish, his political science education had taught him to question biases, so he began to look to different philosophies — including Buddhism, Hinduism, North American religions and Islam — for direction. When graduation came, although he had been planning a trip with friends since his freshman year, he instead decided to travel alone to the East. 

“I came to the conclusion that if you believe in something, you have to go for it and not hold back. There would be no saying ‘what if’ later in life,” he said, explaining his decision to leave without a plan or even a cell phone, guided only by faith. 

Not long after Braude arrived in India, he found that the teachings of the ashrams where he was studying could be in opposition to the communal Jewish values with which he was raised. Braude realized he could live a life of seclusion forever, but decided his purpose was to grow spiritually while also helping those around him to grow.

“I was sleeping [for] around five hours a night, eating one vegetarian meal a day and dedicating the rest [of my time] to study, meditation and yoga,” Braude said. “My Eastern religious texts stressed a life of simplicity and separation. My Jewish texts taught me that while we must seek spiritual refinement, the Jewish purpose is to elevate the world around us by being deeply involved in the physical world.”

Braude had explored many different philosophies and faiths but kept finding himself returning to volunteering in Chabad communities. His service grew so much that at one point he was singlehandedly running the Chabad in Rishikesh, India, using his own funds and donations when the Chabad’s rabbi needed to return to Israel. 

Throughout his time in northern India, Braude met with elder spiritual leaders from a wide range of faiths, including priests, gurus, Brahmans, yogis and babas, but also spent his Shabbat dinners at Chabads, together with up to 30 Jews gathered from around the world.

In Sri Lanka, where the Jewish community is very small — Braude estimates that fewer than 15 Jews live in Sri Lanka’s capital city — the Chabad’s primary focus was catering to traveling businessmen and visiting Israeli travelers. Sri Lanka’s only synagogue is in Colombo, and the Chabad, located near the airport, provides rooms and kosher food for those passing through. During Braude’s time there, he helped in various ways, including by teaching the shaliach’s children English and assisting with the culinary needs of the Chabad by making sure all foods were cooked and prepared in accordance with the laws of kashrut. He also described how the Chabad brought a Torah to festivals on the beach for the many Israeli travelers who attended. 

“Young backpackers would come and go constantly, and I was there to make them feel comfortable and answer questions,” Braude said. “When desired, I could also provide short lessons of Judaism or assist in putting on tefillin.”

Vietnam’s Jewish community, in contrast to Sri Lanka’s, is large and well established, especially in Ho Chi Minh City.

“I would open the Chabad every morning at 9 and spend all day overseeing its daily operations,” Braude said. “My overall concern was focused on upholding and assisting the rabbi with the religious aspect of the center, as well as making all feel welcome. Thus, the focus was on kashrut, Torah study, tefillin, communicating with visitors and spiritual guidance at times.”

Braude also spent a lot of time in the kitchen of the Chabad in Ho Chi Minh City, an area renowned for its delicious kosher restaurant and even caters kosher food throughout the country for large tour groups. The bustling, industrious Vietnamese hub drew large crowds during festivals, and Braude said one of his favorite memories of his trip was bartending a shtetl/”Fiddler on the Roof”-themed Purim party at the Chabad, which more than 70 guests attended.

A “Fiddler on the Roof”-themed Purim party at the Chabad in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Chabad

“When people ask my favorite place over the course of my year, I explain that I was fortunate enough to be in some of the most amazingly scenic places in the world. Nevertheless, a place is only as good as the people you are surrounded by. Even though Ho Chi Minh is a big, industrious city, I had an incredible family there that made it one of my favorite locations.” 

After a year away, Braude is now back in the U.S., living with his family in San Diego. One of his biggest adjustments since his return has been to move from a highly spiritual and spartan lifestyle to the life of abundance he faces in California.

“The life of an observant Jew, to many, doesn’t match up well with life over here,” he said. “However, this is where I know I am supposed to be for now, and I don’t believe the two have to be in conflict. The Jewish philosophy is to be involved in this world and to infuse godliness within it. I am still in the process, but I intend on fusing the life I had before with my newfound path.”

Although his lifestyle has changed from what he left behind in Santa Barbara, Braude said he is still very much the same passionate soul he has always been.

“I may have a beard and tzitzit now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do all the things I used to do,” he said. “In fact, I quite enjoy the notion that I may be the first observant individual to bless my beer at a certain bar, or do a mikveh at the local beach.”

Although he may still consider pursing ordination as a rabbi, he said he believes how a person lives is more important than a framed paper hanging on the wall.

“My senior quote in high school was Mark Twain’s ‘I never let my schooling interfere with my education,’ ” Braude said. “I think that still holds true for me.”

Al-Qaida announces India wing, renews loyalty to Taliban chief

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahri on Wednesday announced the formation of an Indian branch of his militant group he said would spread Islamic rule and “raise the flag of jihad” across the subcontinent.

In a 55-minute video posted online, Zawahri also renewed a longstanding vow of loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in an apparent snub to the Islamic State armed group challenging al-Qaida for leadership of transnational Islamist militancy.

Zawahri described the formation of “al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent” as a glad tidings for Muslims “in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujurat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir” and said the new wing would rescue Muslims there from injustice and oppression.

Counter-terrorism experts say Al-Qaida's ageing leaders are struggling to compete for recruits with Islamic State, which has galvanised young followers around the world by carving out tracts of territory across the Iraq-Syria border.

Islamic State leader Abu Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself a “caliph” or head of state and has demanded the loyalty of all Muslims.

The group fell out with Zawahri in 2013 over its expansion into Syria, where Baghdadi's followers have carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.

As well being an indirect repudiation of Islamic State, the announcement could pose a challenge to India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi. He has already faced criticism for remaining silent about several incidents deemed anti-Muslim, underscoring fears that his Hindu nationalist followers will upset religious relations in the majority Hindi nation.

However, while al-Qaida is very much at home in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, due to influential contacts and a long presence there, it is a minnow compared to local militant groups in terms of manpower and regional knowledge.


Over the years Zawahri and his predecessor Osama bin Laden, killed by U.S. forces in 2011, repeatedly pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar, in return for the safe haven he granted their followers in Afghanistan.

The statement did not mention Islamic State or Baghdadi, but it appear to take a subtle dig at the group's efforts at administering areas it has seized in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State's effort at state-building is something never attempted by al-Qaida's central leaders, who traditionally have preferred to plot complex attacks on targets in the West.

Zawahri called for unity among militants and criticised “discord” – echoing a common al Qaeda complaint against Islamic State's record of clashing with rival Islamist groups in Syria.

The statement also warned al-Qaida's new wing against oppressing local populations – another complaint levelled against Islamic State by critics in Iraq and Syria.

“If you said that you are doing jihad to defend the sanctities of the Muslims, then you must not transgress against them or their money or honour, and not even transgress your mujahideen brothers by word and action,” he said.

“Discord is a curse and torment, and disgrace for the believers and glory for the disbelievers,” he said. “If you say that by your jihad you do not want but the pleasure of Allah, then you must not race for governance and leadership at the first opportunity.”

Muslims account for 15 percent of Indians but, numbering an estimated 175 million, theirs is the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

Centuries of rule by medieval Muslim invaders drove a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. Tensions have grown since Pakistan was carved from Muslim-majority areas of India in 1947, a violent partition in which hundreds of thousands were killed. In the era of Washington's “war on terror”, some Indian Muslims have begun to sympathise more with hardline pan-Islamic groups and causes.

Editing by Alison Williams

Moving and Shaking: Temple Adat Elohim names interim rabbi, Brooke Burke-Charvet honored

Rabbi Barry Diamond

Temple Adat Elohim (TAE) has named Southern California native Rabbi Barry Diamond as its interim rabbi. He replaces Rabbi Ted Riter, who ended his 16-year tenure at TAE in May.

Diamond, who grew up in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, has served in several posts since his ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, including time as interim rabbi in Houston, Texas, at Temple Sinai. He has worked as a part-time rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom of Bryan/College Station, Texas, and spent 14 years leading the education programs at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas.

TAE, a Reform congregation in Thousand Oaks, announced Diamond’s appointment on July 5. A congregational meeting to approve Diamond was held on July 14. 

From left: Actress and model Brooke Burke-Charvet with Barbara Lazaroff, California Spirit co-founder and restaurant designer. Photo courtesy of Amy Williams

Last month, American actress and model Brooke Burke-Charvet was honored at the 29th California Spirit, an annual gala that raises funds for the American Cancer Society.

During the July 28 event, which was held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Burke received the Inspiration Award. In 2012, the multifaceted performer who co-hosts “Dancing With the Stars” shocked fans when she announced that she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. That same year, Burke’s cancer was successfully removed. 

Co-founded by film executive Sherry Lansing, restaurant designer Barbara Lazaroff and chef Wolfgang Puck, California Spirit features cuisine, wines, live entertainment and a live silent auction. Since 1984, it has raised millions of dollars in support of research, patient services, early detection and more at the American Cancer Society.

Former “Project Runway” contestant Nick Verreos presented the award to Burke. Additional honorees included John Shaffner, Joe Stewart, Dr. Philomena McAndrew and Dr. Solomon Hamburg.

Delegates of AJWS’ rabbinic trip to India included Rabbi Peter Levi (top row, standing), Rabbi Ron Li-Paz (top row, second from left) and Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell (top row, second from right). Photo by Ruth Messinger of AJWS.

Rabbis Ron Li-Paz, of Valley Outreach Synagogue, and Peter Levi, of Temple Beth El in Orange County, traveled to Lucknow, India, last month on a rabbinic delegation trip. 

American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international humanitarian nonprofit led by activist Ruth Messinger, organized the trip, which provided the local clergy with the opportunity to join national Jewish leaders and volunteers in reflecting on connections between traditional Jewish teaching, service activities and human rights. It was AJWS’ fourth rabbinic delegation to visit somewhere aboard.

In total, 17 rabbis from across the country — including Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, the Philadelphia-based founding director of the Los Angeles Jewish Feminist Center — participated in the 10-day excursion. It ended July 31.

“We are deeply gratified to have leaders of Rabbis Elwell, Levi and Li-Paz’s caliber as part of our rabbinic delegation to India,” said Messinger, president of AJWS, in a statement released prior to the trip. “Rabbi Elwell, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Li-Paz, like the other rabbis traveling with us, are tremendous leaders not only in their synagogues and organizations, but also in their local communities.”

AJWS reports that it has sent more than 400 rabbis, rabbinic students and graduate students in Jewish communal programs on learning and service trips in the developing world since 2004. Upon returning home from these trips, delegates work with fellow alumni to form like-minded communities of Jews interested in global justice.  

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to

India-born British-Jewish artist Kapoor is knighted

Anish Kapoor, a British-Jewish artist, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Kapoor, a native of Mumbai, India, was recognized recently for his services to the visual arts as part of the queen’s birthday honors list for 2013.

Kapoor, 59, is the son of a Hindu father and Jewish mother. His grandfather was a cantor at a synagogue in Pune, India, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

He lived for two years in the 1970s with his brother on a kibbutz in Israel, where he discovered his talent for art, particularly sculpture. He then returned to Britain to attend art school.

Kapoor has received numerous international honors. Many of his works are made from polished stainless steel and are on display around the world.

In 2010, he completed a work commissioned for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem called “Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem.”

Wanted: Diamond polishers in Israel. Piety not a problem

Diamond manufacturing is a dwindling trade in Israel. The country has one of the world's hottest diamond exchanges, but polishers and cutters of the precious stones have been replaced by cheaper workers in newer hubs like India and China.

Israel wants to bring them back. To do so, it plans on recruiting a legion of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who because of their dedication to prayer and study, have been unable or unwilling to join the work force, putting a heavy weight on the economy.

The job of a diamond polisher, however, is unique, said Bumi Traub, president of the Israel Diamond Manufacturers Association. It need not disrupt their pious lifestyle.

“The profession is fitting. You deal with the rock, and if you need to go pray, no one will bother you,” he said.

The door to Traub's office requires a fingerprint scan. Security is tight in the four-building exchange where annual turnover of trade reaches $25 billion.

About a third of rough diamonds produced in the world each year pass through the Jewish state and diamonds account for more than a fifth of the country's industrial exports.

It was a natural sector to develop when Israel was founded 64 years ago, since the small stones have been choice merchandise for generations of Jews who had to quickly flee from riots and persecution.

The plan to revitalise manufacturing will cost millions of dollars and the diamond sector, for the first time, is turning to the government for help. The government, eager to get as many ultra-Orthodox working as possible, is on board.


The global financial crisis has taken a toll on the diamond trade, and Israel was not spared. Turnover was nearly halved at the outset in 2009, though in 2011 it returned to pre-crisis levels. A smaller drop is again expected for 2012.

The damage has been moderate compared to other major hubs such as India, according to Yair Sahar, president of the Israel Diamond Exchange.

“In other centres the leverage was tremendous, as opposed to here where we were much more conservative,” he said, referring to the low level of debt among Israeli firms. “We entered the crisis more prepared, so to speak.”

There have, however, been other problems.

The price for raw material has risen faster than that of the final product, eating away at profits. And a money laundering and tax evasion scandal at the start of 2012 scared away some customers. The investigations have ended and, so far, no one has been charged.

The diamond trading floor in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, is the biggest in the world. Armed guards escort non-members and on one wall are mug shots of problematic dealers whom customers are urged to avoid.

Diamonds change hands freely across the rows of long dark tables that line the hall. On one side a seller could be local. A buyer across the way could represent some anonymous client on a different continent.

They scrutinise the stones under a magnifying glass, weigh them on sensitive scales and when a deal is reached they say “mazal ubracha”, a Hebrew phrase recognised in centres around the world meaning “luck and blessings”.

In 2011, rough diamond imports to Israel topped $4.4 billion and $7.2 billion in polished diamonds were exported. Every second diamond sold in the United States, according to value, came from Israel.

But only $1.5 billion of the stones were cut and polished locally, a much lower percentage than a decade ago. The rest were sent abroad to foreign firms or Israeli-owned factories.

“Once, everyone who sat in this room was a manufacturer,” billionaire dealer Lev Leviev said at the opening of a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) laboratory in September. “There was not a diamantaire who was not a manufacturer, and over the years we lost it.”

Salaries were just too cheap to compete with, he said, first in India, the world's biggest importer of rough diamonds, and later in China.

Israel has subsisted on larger, high-end stones whose owners pay more to have them manufactured close to home. But industry leaders hope to change that, in part because polishers in developing countries are demanding more money.

“I think we are there, more or less. With rocks of one carat plus, I think we are in a place where the (wage) gap doesn't justify running to manufacture abroad,” said Sahar.

The GIA decision to open its lab in Israel was a first step. Manufacturers can now have their diamonds graded and evaluated in Israel rather than sending them to the United States.

“It's critical for the growth, for the international branding of the export business, and we think that we're a good partner to help the manufacturing grow,” GIA President and CEO Donna Baker told Reuters when the lab opened.

By cutting costs and allowing increased turnover, it will add between $30 million and $50 million a year to the industry.


At the peak of manufacturing in the 1980s, there were 20,000 people cutting and polishing diamonds in Israel. That has dropped to about 2,000.

“There is no new manpower. Most polishers are 50 years old and up,” said Roy Fuchs, who owns a factory a few minutes walk from the exchange. “If they don't invest and bring in new blood, there simply won't be manufacturing.”

To make it happen, the industry realises it needs help, and for the first time, it is looking for assistance.

“It's not easy. You need cooperation with the government,” said Udi Sheintal, the Israel Diamond Institute's managing director. “Here in the middle of Ramat Gan, you don't get incentives. There are only incentives for certain populations, like the haredi.”

The term haredi, which in Hebrew means “those who tremble before God”, refers to people who strictly observe Jewish law. They dress in traditional black outfits, the men do not shave their beards and they spend their days in study and prayer.

Some 8-10 percent of Israelis are haredi. For the most part they live in insular communities, are exempt from mandatory military service and, according to the Bank of Israel, less than half of ultra-Orthodox men work.

The issue has created a rift in the mostly secular Israeli society and put a strain on an otherwise robust economy. The government has already earmarked $200 million over the next five years to encourage haredi integration in the work force.

Many in the new generation of ultra-Orthodox are open to the idea of getting jobs. The key is finding one that fits, said Bezalel Cohen, 38, who has worked for years to promote employment among his fellow haredis.

“The diamond industry's initiative (to hire ultra-Orthodox)has potential to really succeed,” he said. “As long as the pay and training is proper, it should take off.”

Aside from helping to pay the salaries for newly hired haredis, the government will offer grants to small exporters and marketing support.


The Trade Ministry's diamond controller, Shmuel Mordechai, said the government backs the idea and has funded similar programs in other financial sectors. It would have helped even earlier, he said, but the diamond industry was never interested.

“They lived in their bubble, they said, 'Don't bother us, don't help us'. In recent years, because of difficulties in the industry and because we opened up our tools to them, they understand,” he said.

One of the more advanced plans Mordechai described is that of an independent service plant where dealers bring their rough diamonds. Such a plant would cost $1-$2 million and employ 30-40 workers. The government will help recruit the ultra-Orthodox.

“In any plant they set up here and bring employment, we will give help with salaries and other incentives,” he said. “If two or three are set up, it will catch on. If the first one succeeds, others will follow.”

Traub, from the manufacturer's association, intends to create dozens of new private factories. He has already spoken to leading rabbis in the community to win their support.

“I'm speaking of starting with hundreds and going to thousands of haredi workers,” he said. “Manufacturing attracts clients. Barring a global crisis, I think we will grow at least 10 percent a year in export.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich

Indian authorities remove ‘Hitler’ cloithing store sign

Municipal authorities in the Indian state of Gujarat removed the sign for a men's clothing store named Hitler.

The sign — on which the letter “i” was dotted with a swastika — was removed Tuesday after hundreds of complaints from both within and outside of the Jewish community.

“The store owners had voluntarily agreed to remove the controversial billboard. But when they failed to do so, we removed it,” Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Commissioner Guruprasad Mohapatra told the Press Trust of India.

“It is a sensitive issue. We had received hundreds of e-mails demanding removal of the board,” he said.

The shop owners had no prior notice that the sign was to be dismantled, according to reports. They reportedly filed a complaint with police over the action.

Shop owner Rajesh Shah told The Indian Express in September that he and his business partner Manish Chandani decided to change the name because they were “getting political pressure” to do so. They later backtracked, saying they would only remove the sign if the Jewish community gave them enough money to erect a new sign and advertise the name change.

The store in the city of Ahmedabad, which opened in August, is named for one of the proprietor's grandfathers, whose nickname was Hitler. He reportedly was called Hitler “because of his strict nature,” according to The Times of India.

Shah said he did not know about Hitler's history, except that he was a strict man, until he started researching it on the Internet, though Jewish community members said they believe the owners are not as ignorant of the history of Hitler as they say.

Obama faces tough call on Iran oil sanctions

Just weeks after the election, President Barack Obama will be faced with a pivotal decision on oil sanctions on Iran, in which he will have to balance the need to stay tough on Tehran without pushing oil prices too high.

In considering whether to extend a new series of six-month exemptions to Washington's oil sanctions, the administration must decide whether China, India, South Korea and other nations have done enough to wean themselves from Iranian oil.

Forcing cuts that are too aggressive could fuel a new rally in oil prices, benefiting Iran and hurting allies. Accepting meager cuts risks criticism from Congress and Israel.

The sanctions are aimed at slashing Iran's oil revenues to pressure it to stop efforts to enrich uranium to levels that could be used in weapons. Tehran has said its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.

On paper, the sanctions require Washington to continuously tighten the screws on Iran's exports “toward a complete cessation” of purchases, forcing importers to make deeper and deeper price and volume cuts in order to win “exceptions,” or waivers.

But the law allows the administration latitude to chart a middle ground in the sanctions, which have already proven more effective than some experts had forecast.

The sanctions require that importers must demonstrate that they are making “significant” reductions every six months, as measured by volume and price. What constitutes a “significant” reduction is at the administration's discretion.

“The point of this is that we would like to see a consistent and gradual reduction. That is the goal,” said a U.S. government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iran's oil exports hit a low of 860,000 barrels per day last month, down from 2.2 million bpd at the end of 2011. That reduction is already greater than some experts had forecast.

Critics are keeping close watch. Obama is expected to face questions about whether he has been tough enough on Iran later on Monday during a foreign policy debate with Republican candidate Mitt Romney, their last debate before the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the United States and Iran have agreed in principle to private, bilateral negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, but both nations denied the report.


For countries including China, India and South Korea, the deadline for new waivers is December.

Even a key proponent of sanctions said he wonders about the need to force dramatically deeper cuts.

“We've probably reached the point of diminishing returns with respect to Iran's oil exports,” said Mark Dubowitz, the head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has pushed for stronger sanctions on Iran.

Dubowitz said it would take a great deal of work to cut global imports of Iranian oil much below 800,000 bpd. Lawmakers are now turning their attention to new types of sanctions that could more quickly hit Tehran's foreign reserves.


So far, all major oil importers have been granted the exceptions. Without the waivers, the United States has the power to blacklist foreign banks handling the oil transactions from the U.S. financial system.

Precisely what qualifies as “significant” is kept confidential, however, and may vary from buyer to buyer.

“The law is remarkably vague about what the baseline is,” said Jeff Colgan, a professor at American University in Washington.

Japan had cut imports by 15-22 percent by the time it received its first waiver in March. It subsequently cut imports by more than a quarter each month except June, and won a second six-month waiver for the U.S. oil sanctions in September.

Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk who co-authored the oil sanctions law last year have told the administration they believe a minimum cut should be about 18 percent for any nation seeking a waiver renewal, achieved through price discounts or volume reductions, a point Menendez underscored in a recent interview.

“We must make it clear – this is a big must – that absent some extraordinary circumstance, that we will not grant waivers to any nation that doesn't make our reduction benchmarks,” Menendez told Reuters earlier this month.


The administration is likely to carefully weigh the cuts required against the impact on prices, since price gains help Iran, hurt allies, and harm the global economy, said Trevor Houser, a partner with Rhodium Group, a New York-based policy and economic consultancy.

“If you tighten the screws too hard and it causes oil prices to spike, then you both undermine the effectiveness of the sanctions and you erode support for the sanctions from other countries,” said Houser, a former State Department adviser.

Houser questioned how far Washington could push the sanctions while also keeping oil markets relatively stable.

Saudi Arabia, which has been pumping oil at its fastest rate in 30 years in order to make up for the diminishing exports from fellow OPEC member Iran, has limited additional capacity to tap if shipments fall further, analysts say.

The administration likely will face the most political scrutiny for its decision on a renewed waiver for China. China officially opposes the U.S. sanctions, but secured a waiver in June after a contract dispute resulted in steep import cuts in the first half.

Although its imports of Iranian oil rose in June to an 11-month high, they dropped in July and August to 25 percent below the same months in 2011, the most recent months for which data is available. China's first-half imports from Iran were down 20 percent from a year ago.

“China is a very different story and that's where we fear the administration will cook the books to give China a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card in order to avoid a showdown with America's largest creditor,” a senior Congressional aide said, on condition of anonymity.

With much bigger trade issues at stake, American University's Colgan believes a waiver for China is likely. “The trade consequences are unknown and potentially very bad if they start a trade war over this,” he said.

Jews of Ahmedabad, India, welcome Torah scroll

The small Jewish community of Ahmedabad, India, where a store called Hitler recently changed its name, held a synagogue celebration to dedicate a new Torah scroll.

The community of some 125 Jews in this capital city of the western Indian state of Gujerat dedicated the kosher Torah on Sept. 9 after discovering recently that the Torah scroll in its synagogue, Magen Abraham, was not kosher.

Ahmedabad Jews also said they were happy to learn that the clothing shop in their city that carried the name Hitler had agreed to change its name.

“We stood up and roared like a lion,” said Esther David, a well-known Indian author and a lifelong member of the Ahmedabad Jewish community.

“It is a kind of early Purim,” said David Benjamin, a doctor in the community.

It was Jews from Ahmedabad, part of India’s Bnei Yisrael community, who first called attention to the Hitler store, bringing it to the attention of the Israeli consul general in Mumbai, Orna Sagiv. A synagogue delegation later met with the shop owner to convince him to change the name.

International media outlets picked up the story.

“Being a microscopic community of 125 people living in a city of millions, we do not like to stand out. This was the first public storm we have ever faced,” David said. “But it was clear that we could not stay silent.”

David added that the local Jewish community has never experienced any anti-Semitism.

“Like all Indian Jews, we live in absolute peace and tolerance with our neighbors — Hindus, Muslims and Christians,” she said.

Hitler clothing store in India to change name

The owners of a men's clothing store in the Indian state of Gujarat said they would change the store's name from Hitler.

The store in Ahmedabad is named for one of the proprietor's grandfathers, whose nickname was Hitler. He reportedly was called Hitler “because of his strict nature,” according to The Times of India.

Shop owner Rajesh Shah told The Indian Express that he and his business partner Manish Chandani decided Monday evening  to change the name because they were “getting political pressure” to do so.

“We received at least 10 calls every day from the U.S., the U.K., Dubai, Germany and Israel. It was getting very annoying, as many of these people called at odd hours,” Shah told the Indian Express.

Israeli consul general to the Indian city of Mumbai, Orna Sagiv, on Monday during a visit to Gujarat asked state officials to intervene in order to convince the owners to change the store's name, according to The Associated Press.

Shah told the Indian Express that a visit by local officials helped convince them to change the store's name.

Shah said he did not know about Hitler's history, except that he was a strict man, until he started researching it on the Internet.

Jews from the local synagogue had visited the store last week to express concern over its name. Jewish community members said they believe the owners are not as ignorant of the history of Hitler as they say.

Jack Jacob: The general who saved India from more war

Lt. Gen. Jack Jacob, a national hero in India for likely saving hundreds of thousands of lives, is planning to fade away.

“I’ve just had my 89th birthday,” he says, “I think I’ve earned the right to rest.”

So Jacob, India’s “top-ranking Jew,” stayed home on his recent birthday, preferring to be alone in his modest New Delhi flat while enjoying his birthday cake, a special delivery from Nachum’s—Calcutta’s famous Jewish Bakery and now among the last of the once many Jewish-owned establishments in the city.

Sitting on his golden brocade sofas—he calls them his “thrones”—Jacob’s answers to a retinue of questions are instantaneous and measured. He occasionally illustrates his point with passages from English poetry from the first half of the last century.

He has loved two women, he says, but they did not wait for him. His brothers are no longer alive; he has no contact with extended family. Calcutta’s Jewish community has mostly migrated to Israel.

“My friends and peers are all gone,” Jacob says.

Jack Farj Rafael Jacob, wildly accomplished and widely respected, is best known for his decisive role in the 1971 Bangladesh war. Indians and historians generally agree that his courage, strategic thinking and chutzpah changed the course of South Asian history.

What had started as a freedom fight by the Eastern wing of Pakistan (now Bangladesh) against mainland Pakistan to the west—the two geographically separated regions straddle India—turned into a full blown humanitarian crisis. Estimates from historians and governments range from 500,000 to 3 million people being massacred in the conflict along with countless thousands of rapes and other atrocities. As a result, some 10 million refugees streamed over the border into India, which then declared war on Pakistan.

Jacob, then chief of staff of the Indian Eastern command, knew that a protracted war, of which he was the Indian commander, would claim countless more lives. As the war began, trudging through swamp terrain, his troops enacted a daring plan to capture Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan.

Two weeks into the war, Pakistan’s commander in East Pakistan, Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, invited Jacob to lunch to discuss a cease-fire. Jacob wrote up an “instrument of surrender” document for his counterpart and flew with it across enemy lines, unarmed and accompanied only by one staff officer.

Niazi was given a stark choice: Surrender unconditionally and publicly, and receive the protection of the Indian Army for all minorities and retreating troops, or face an Indian military onslaught. Jacob gave Niazi 30 minutes to decide.

Jacob, as he retells it, went out to the veranda, pacing for the full half hour. Exhibiting his legendary self-control, the general appeared relatively calm while puffing his pipe and asking the Pakistani sentry about his wife and children. But knowing that he had been bluffing, “I appealed to God for help and said the Shema Yisrael,” he told JTA.

Niazi agreed to the terms. The next day, 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered. Jacob had but 3,000 Indian troops, 30 miles away, behind him.

Multitudes were likely saved by this surrender, still studied by military students. Recognizing his role, last month the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh awarded Jacob a certificate of appreciation for his “unique role” in the formation of the nation.

Jacob was born into the once vibrant Baghdadi Jewish community of Calcutta in 1923. His was a deeply religious family, and his parents hired Hebrew teachers for him and his brothers. But Jacob says he “just wasn’t interested, something I now deeply regret.”

That was before poetry and war pulled him away. It was before he saved forests and wildlife from destruction and his (secret) efforts to cultivate the now 20-year-old Israel-India relationship. It was before he became a national hero.

When his father fell ill, the children were sent to a boarding school high in the Darjeeling hills. Jacob excelled in his studies and fell in love with the virgin forests, developing his lifelong passion for the outdoors. As a teenager he loved poetry and was especially influenced by the work of wartime poets. World War II had started and the Jacobs adopted a family of Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe.

“I was appalled by their stories, by the atrocities,” he says, “I joined the British Army to fight the Nazis.” Jacob’s father initially disapproved, but eventually gave his blessing out of respect for his son’s motives.

When India gained independence in 1948, Jacob continued to serve in the Indian Army, swiftly rising in the ranks.

“The only place I encountered anti-Semitism was from the British in their army,” he says. “Among Indians it does not exist.”

After retirement in July 1978, he was appointed as the governor—usually a ceremonial position—of the small southwestern state of Goa. In another display of Jacobian chutzpah, he imposed the rarely used “Governor’s rule” to combat an acute parliamentary crisis “reminiscent of a game of musical chairs.”

He battled corruption, paid back high-interest loans and saved large tracks of forest from the mining industry by designating those lands as wildlife reserves. Jacob was next appointed governor of Punjab. When he left the post, graffiti went up on the walls: “Without Jacob, who will feed the poor?”

Jacob still will not share details of his role in forging the diplomatic bond with Israel. However, when Israel’s ambassador to India arrived in Delhi this year, he brought a personal letter for Jacob from Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“I need not reiterate the importance that Israel attaches to its relations with India, and want to express our appreciation for your support,” Peres wrote. “We are proud that as an Indian Jew, you have played such an important role in the defense and development of your country, and trust that your friendship will serve to promote deeper and broader ties and cooperation between Israel and India.”

Peres also congratulated Jacob on his new best-selling autobiography, “An Odyssey in War and Peace.”

Jacob has been to Israel several times, even before the forging of diplomatic relations. He was on stage as an honored guest during the 1995 opening ceremony for the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations. Over the years, Jacob had developed close friendships with Israelis such as Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. He had a particular fondness for Motta Gur, the Israeli paratrooper commander whose forces captured the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967.

“Your military achievements were of much interest in my country,” Gur once wrote to Jacob in a letter delivered via a mutual friend in the days before Israel-India relations. “Your performance is, without a doubt, one of the best in modern warfare.”

Today, Jacob’s uniform hangs in the Israeli military museum Latrun. He even donated his mother’s silver wedding girdle and jewelry to the Indian Jewish museum in Lod, Israel.

Was he ever tempted to move to the Jewish state and offer his military expertise?

“Israel has outstanding military leaders of their own, they do not need me,” he says. “Besides, India has always been very good to us. I am very proud to be a Jew, but am Indian through and through. I was born in India and served here my whole life; this is where I want die.”

Then, quoting from one of his favorite poems—“Invictus” by W.E. Henley—Jacob rests his chin on chest, closes his eyes and recites these lines in the fading evening light:

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”

Indian police say Delhi, Bangkok blasts linked

Indian police have established a link between a bomb that wounded an Israeli diplomat’s wife in New Delhi and a fumbled bomb plot in Thailand, the city’s police chief said on Friday, adding that arrest warrants had been issued for three Iranians.

New Delhi police said one of the three suspects had been in touch with Sedaghatzadeh Masoud, an Iranian man arrested in Malaysia last month in connection with blasts in Bangkok.

“Houshang Afshar Irani, who had come twice to Delhi, was in touch with Sedaghatzadeh Masoud, thus establishing his links with the terror module that executed the terror acts in Bangkok,” police chief Brijesh Gupta told reporters.

Gupta said the three men were not Iranian officials.

Though somewhat clumsy, last month’s attacks raised concern that a “shadow war” may be developing between Israel and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. At least four Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in recent years in attacks believed to have been carried out by or for Israel’s intelligence services.

The attack in New Delhi has been awkward for the Indian government, which has close defense ties with Israel but is also a major buyer of Iranian crude oil. India has tried to work around U.S. and European sanctions aimed at damaging Iran’s atomic development, which the West fears is aimed at building nuclear weapons.

In New Delhi, a bomber travelling by motorcycle attached an explosive to the car of the Israeli diplomat’s wife as she drove to pick her children up from school on February 13, hours after an attack was foiled in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The next day in Bangkok, an Iranian lost his legs when a bomb he was carrying exploded in shortly after an apparently accidental explosion forced him and two other men to flee a house they had been renting.

The wounded man and a second Iranian, arrested at Bangkok’s main airport, are in custody. A third Iranian believed linked to the plot, Masoud, was detained in Malaysia.

Israel accuses Iran of engineering the attacks. Iran rejects that.

India’s foreign ministry said it was seeking an Interpol order for the three men believed to be behind the new Delhi attack, but added that “no conclusions could be drawn at this stage”.

“We have informed the Iranian ambassador of these developments so as to seek the cooperation of the Iranian authorities in bringing those involved in this dastardly attack to justice,” spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in a statement.

Thai investigators say the same magnets were used to make the bombs in India and Thailand.

Last week, Indian police arrested a journalist called Mohammed Kazmi who did freelance work for an Iranian news agency in connection with the embassy attack.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Annie Banerji; Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel

India issues arrest warrants against Iranians in car bombing

India has issued arrest warrants for three Iranians in connection with a bomb attack on an Israeli Embassy car.

A New Delhi court issued the arrest warrants on Wednesday, marking the first time that India officially has linked the Feb. 13 attack to Iran. The attack injured the wife of an Israeli diplomat,

The men named in the warrants reportedly left the country immediately after the attack, The Times of India reported.

The Indian Express quoted an unnamed security source as saying that the men entered and left the country separately, and that their travel details have been documented.

The government reportedly will ask Interpol to issue international arrest warrants.

Indian journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi was arrested last week in connection with the attack. He reportedly was in touch with an Iranian intelligence officer and visited Iran prior to the car bombing.

Israel has blamed Iran for the New Delhi explosion, as well as an attempted bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Tiblisi, Georgia, on the same day and an explosion the following day in Thailand.

Hezbollah denies role in attacks in India, Georgia

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah denied Israeli accusations on Thursday that his group was behind bombers who attacked Israeli missions in India and Georgia this week.

“I assure you that Hezbollah has nothing to do with this,” he told supporters. Israel accused Iran and Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks on Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people. Tehran also denied the Israeli accusations.

Nasrallah was speaking at an event marking the fourth anniversary of the assassination of its military commander Imad Moughniyah. The Shi’ite group accused Israel of killing Moughniyah in a car bomb in Syria and has vowed revenge.

Israel has denied involvement, and said that it has since foiled several Hezbollah attempts to kidnap Israelis abroad.

Nasrallah reiterated the group’s vow to respond to Moughniyah’s killing: “As long as there is blood in the veins of any (member) of Hezbollah (then) the day when we will avenge the killing of Imad Moughniyah will come.”

Hezbollah fought against Israel in a 34-day war in 2006 after the group captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Some 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, were killed and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died.

Reporting by Mariam Karouny; editing by Andrew Roche

Indian court stays deportation of Israeli couple

An Indian court has stayed the deportation of an Israeli couple in the city of Kochi.

The couple had claimed to be Chabad emissaries, but they are not official emissaries according to

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday issued a stay of the deportation of Shneor Zalman and Yaffa Shenoi for what police term “suspicious activities.” The couple was ordered deported a week ago for violation of their tourist visas, since they did not indicate that they would be organizing religious activities, the Times of India reported.

The couple will be allowed to present their case to the court on Wednesday, at which time the court will decide whether they should be deported.

They had arrived in Kochi in March 2010, and raised suspicion by paying higher than market rate to rent a house in the city on a block populated with other Jews.

Zalman told The Jerusalem Post last week that the couple was invited to Kochi by the small Jewish community to open a Jewish outreach center.

Police said they were suspicious of what they called late-night meetings in the house, which the couple told Ynet they believe were Shabbat dinners for travelers and members of the local Jewish community.

Israel blames Iran after attacks on Embassy staff

Israel accused arch-enemies Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks that targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people.

Tehran denied involvement in the attacks, which amplified tensions between two countries already at loggerheads over Iran’s nuclear program, and accused Israel of carrying out the attacks itself. Hezbollah made no comment.

In the Indian capital New Delhi, a bomb wrecked a car taking an Israeli embassy official to pick up her children from school, police said. The woman needed surgery to remove shrapnel but her life was not in danger.

Her driver and two passers-by suffered lesser injuries.

Israeli officials said an attempt to bomb an embassy car in the Georgian capital Tbilisi failed, and the device was defused.

Israel had put its foreign missions on high alert ahead of the fourth anniversary this past Sunday of the assassination in Syria of the military mastermind of Hezbollah, Imad Moughniyeh – an attack widely assumed to be the work of Israeli agents.

Israel is believed to be locked in a wider covert war with Iran, whose nuclear program has been beset by apparent sabotage, including the unclaimed killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists, most recently in January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed both Iran and Hezbollah, accusing them of responsibility for a string of recent attempted attacks on Israeli interests in countries as far apart as Thailand and Azerbaijan.

“Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind each of these attacks,” said Netanyahu, who dismisses Iran denials that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. “We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected Netanyahu’s accusation, saying it was Israel that had carried out the attacks as part of its psychological warfare against Iran.

“It seems that these suspicious incidents are designed by the Zionist regime and carried out with the aim of harming Iran’s reputation,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Mehmanparast as saying.

Israeli officials have long made veiled threats to retaliate against Lebanon for any Hezbollah attack on their interests abroad, arguing that as the Islamist group sits in government in Beirut, its actions reflect national policy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington that the United States had no information yet on who was responsible, adding: “These incidents underscore our ongoing concerns of the targeting of Israeli interests overseas.”


The New Delhi blast took place some 500 meters (yards) from the official residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

B.K. Gupta, the New Delhi police commissioner, said a witness had seen a motorcyclist stick a device to the back of the car, which had diplomatic registration plates.

“The eyewitness … says it (was) some kind of magnetic device. As soon as the motorcycle moved away a good distance from the car, the car blew up and it caught fire,” said Gupta.

The Iranian scientist killed in Tehran last month died in a similar such attack by a motorcyclist who attached a device to his car. No one has claimed responsibility for that, although Iran was quick to accuse agents of Israel and its U.S. ally.

Israel named the injured woman as Talya Yehoshua Koren, who worked at the embassy and was married to the defense attache.

“She was able to drag herself from the car and is now at the American hospital, where two Israeli doctors are treating her,” an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Thailand said last month its police had arrested a Lebanese man linked to Hezbollah, and that he later led them to a warehouse stocked with bomb-making materials. Also last month, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two people suspected of plotting to attack Israel’s ambassador and a local rabbi.

In a speech on January 24, Israel’s military chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, accused Hezbollah of trying to carry out proxy attacks while avoiding direct confrontation.

“During this period of time, when our enemies in the north avoid carrying out attacks, fearing a harsh response, we are witnesses to the ongoing attempts by Hezbollah and other hostile entities to execute vicious terror attacks at locations far away from the state of Israel,” Gantz said.

“I suggest that no one test our resolve.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive and costly war across the Lebanese border in 2006.

Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee, Annie Banerji and Arup Roy Choudhury in New Delhi, Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Mark Heinrich, Alastair Macdonald and Kevin Liffey

Change soap opera’s Hitler name, ADL asks Indian network

The Anti-Defamation League has called on an Indian television network to change the name of a new soap opera with Hitler in the title.

“Hitler Didi” airs five days a week on Zee TV, a division of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, based in Mumbai. After receiving numerous complaints about the title and its use in online promotional materials and videos, ADL last week wrote network executives with a request to change the name to one “not freighted with the taint of the Nazi Holocaust.”

“Hitler Didi,” which translates to “Auntie Hitler,” refers to the lead character, a young woman known in her locality as a strict disciplinarian who takes a no-nonsense attitude with her family.

“Let’s preserve the name ‘Hitler’ as a villain of incomparable evil and not trivialize his legacy or the Holocaust with a serial TV title,” the ADL wrote in a letter to Zee Entertainment’s managing editor and CEO, Punit Goenka, and chairman, Subhash Chandra. “We strongly urge you to reconsider the choice of title and rename your show.”

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor, said “The name Hitler doesn’t belong in the title of a soap opera, and we think the producers of this program have made a terrible error in judgment that can only be remedied with a title change.”

The program, starring the Indian actress Rati Pandey, premiered Nov. 7 on Zee TV in India and also is being carried on the network’s affiliates in other countries, including the United States.

How many Jews on Earth?

Could the 7 billionth person on the planet be Jewish?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the Earth welcomed its 7 billionth resident on Oct. 31. Statistically, the newborn was most likely a boy in India or China. The symbolic title was given to Danica May Camacho, born two minutes before midnight in Manila in the Philippines.

There is no reason, however, it couldn’t have been Ava Sarah Keyrallah, who was born later that evening in Paris.

“Every single second, four to five new babies are born in the world,” Sergio DellaPergola, a professor of population studies at Hebrew University, told JTA by e-mail. “It is difficult to say exactly which baby was the 7 billionth inhabitant of Earth. But why not dream that it might have been a Jew?”

The daughter of a French Jewish mother and a Lebanese Christian father, the 7-pound Ava Sarah joined a world in which one in 510 people is Jewish, but where the Jewish world as a whole, according to demographers, grows gradually and unevenly.

That Jewish world is one increasingly defined by a small number of population centers, according to a study by DellaPergola titled “World Jewish Population, 2010.” Approximately 80 percent of Jews live in Israel and the United States, and the nine countries with more than 100,000 Jews constitute 91.1 percent of the total worldwide Jewish population.

Further, Jews remain exceptionally urbanized, with half living in just five cities and two-thirds living in 11 cities.

“Jewish population stands at somewhat above 13.5 million and very slowly grows—only thanks to Israel’s component, now approaching 43 percent of the total world Jewry,” DellaPergola said.

Israel, the world’s most fertile developed nation, is the engine of Jewish population growth. Like the rest of the world, Israel saw a massive decline in fertility rates during the 1970s and 1980s due to increases in public health and education for women. Unlike the rest of the world, however, Israel stabilized in the early ‘90s and since then has maintained a fertility rate of 2.9 children per woman.

“Israel has an unprecedented birth rate,” said Leonard Saxe, a professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Brandeis University whose current research involves demographic studies of American Jewry. “Women, even highly educated women, have high birth rates.”

By 1995, according to the World Bank, Israeli women for the first time began having more children than the rest of the world. And last year, Israel surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the most fertile developed nation in the world.

At the beginning of 2010, Israel had a Jewish population of 5.7 million.

Counting Jews outside of Israel is no simple task. Where Israel has a government census, Jewish communities in the Diaspora must rely on less rigorous and consistent methods, which leads to disagreements over numbers.

Just two weeks ago, an otherwise productive conference at Brandeis temporarily turned to finger pointing during a debate over the decision of the Jewish Federations of North America not to fund a census of the Jewish community.

In general, demographers agree that the Diaspora population is in decline due to low fertility rates. Other factors changing the Jewish population include migration, “opting out” of Jewish life, intermarriage and choosing not to raise children as Jews.

According to both DellaPergola and demographer Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami, the apparent exception is the United States, where the American Jewish population has been stable.

“In the long term it should be decreasing, yet it’s relatively constant,” Sheskin said, noting fertility rates that are below replacement levels but citing immigration from the former Soviet Union as one possible reason for the population’s stability.

The two disagree, however, on the overall number of American Jews. DellaPergola says it’s 5.2 million, which is the number found in the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey. Sheskin’s study found 6.5 million, but he doubts his own numbers, estimating a total of 6.2 million.

Saxe, on the other hand, has confidence in the 6.5 million figure, which he arrived at in an independent study. But unlike Sheskin, Saxe says the population trend is increasing due to intense outreach and improved Jewish education.

“We believe that what is happening is that families and households that include Jews are more and more making the decision to raise their kids Jewishly and Jews are more likely to acknowledge their Jewish heritage and Jewish identity,” he said.

Even if the population is shrinking, Sheskin says, there is still a bright side for young Ava.

“Jews are a tiny percentage of the world,” he said. “They’re going to continue to decrease—and win Nobel Prizes.”

Rosh Hashana in India: Torah, sequined saris, chapati and perhaps a secret recipe for peace

I have prayed in synagogues in many foreign countries around the world including Italy, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Belgium, Kenya, Egypt, Australia, and Russia, but this was my first time chanting the “Shema” with a group of Jewish women all wearing saris. 

Just a few days ago I had an opportunity to usher in the New Year together with some 85 Jews in Ahmedabad in western India, at the Magen Abraham Synagogue, an imposing building squeezed into a crowded side street in the Jamalpur area near Khamsa Gate.  Just outside the synagogue, Muslim merchants hawked their wares and motorized rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrians and wandering sacred cows all jostled for their rightful place in the street. Even as a seasoned traveler, I could tell this was going to be a “first” for me!

Praying with the Jews of the Bene Israel congregation was as fascinating as learning about their history. They are one of three Jewish communities in India.  The other two are the Jews of Cochin in southern India, and the Bagdadi Jews of Calcutta located in eastern India near Bangladesh.

The first Jews who arrived in India were fleeing from Israel some two thousand years ago. They reached India after a ship wreck on the Konkan coast near Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). The Jews kept their Biblical names and they also adopted the name of the village they lived in.  Their principal occupation was pressing oil and, because they observed the Sabbath, they were dubbed Shanvar-Telis, meaning the “Saturday Oil People.”

The Bene Israel Jews I met Ahmedabad on the eve of Rosh Hashana trace their earliest history to 1840.  More Jews arrived in 1857 as employees of the British services, happy to find jobs in railways, post offices, textile mills, factories and the army.  Their first official synagogue was built in Ahmedabad in 1933 when at that time there were 800 Jews and 300 families. Two years ago, on September 11-12, they celebrated their synagogue’s 75th anniversary (their “Platinum Jubilee”) with great fanfare, even though their numbers have dwindled considerably, and intermarriage is not uncommon—although it usually means that the non-Jewish partner converts to Judaism, not the other way around.

I found myself sitting next to a beautiful young Jewish woman wearing an elegant embroidered sequined sari and fancy jewelry. For all I knew, Eliza with her tawny skin, long straight hair and ebony eyes, could have been a local Hindu if I had seen her on the street.  That was true for all of the women in the congregation, giving new meaning to the phrase “You don’t look Jewish!”

Ezer Divekar, 11, blows the shofar which is almost as big as he is.

Eliza related that exactly a year ago she had been married in the same synagogue to a local Jewish boy, Mac (short for Macabee) Jacob, who had served as a tank driver in the Israeli army and worked in a dairy on a kibbutz.  Although many Israeli girls were interested in Mac, he yearned for a Bene Israel wife.  He came back home to find one (through an arranged marriage initiated by his mother) and the young couple is now planning to make Aliyah to Israel in the next few months and will either live in Dimona or Eilat.

Eliza introduced me to her lively and petite mother-in-law, Serena Jacob, Vice President of the Magen Abraham community.  Sarena, I learned, was formerly a principal of what they call a “medium” school, which would be the equivalent of a junior high.

Coming from a family of educators myself—my father was a high school math teacher and my mother taught Hebrew school in Chicago for 40 years—I was delighted to discover the most popular and most respected junior high schools of Ahmedabad were founded and administered by Bene Israel Jews.  Until this day their schools are prized not only for high academic standards, but for being open to students of all religious backgrounds, including Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Jains.  A recent article in an Indian daily newspaper, penned by Anil Mulchandi, described in great detail the educational contribution made by the Bene Israel community in Ahmedabad.

As an interfaith activist, I found this last fact particularly meaningful and quizzed Serena at length about Bene Israel’s educational legacy. I learned that one of their most celebrated scholars was Esther Solomon (who died in 2005).  Dr. Solomon was one of three Bene Israel women awarded the prestigious “Padmashree” status (one of the highest civilian awards) by the Government of India, nine years after she had received the Presidential Certificate of Honor for Outstanding Contribution to Sanskrit in 1983.  She is fondly remembered as a great scholar and teacher of Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy, noted for having made major contributions to the study of ancient texts of Hindu philosophy and for her writing on Comparative Philosophy, which explored the concept of Avidya (translated as both ignorance and delusion) in three philosophical traditions of India: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  When she joined the Department of Sanskrit of LD College in 1948, she was the only woman on the Arts Faculty.  Many of her colleagues expressed astonishment, the Bene Israel jubilee booklet noted, because not only was she a woman, but her name was “Solomon.”  A worthy name for a worthy scholar, they must have deduced.

Edward Daniel Reubens discusses interfaith engagement among the Abrahamic communities of Ahmedabad with Los Angeles filmmaker Ruth Broyde Sharone.

The intermittent chats I held with the Bene Israel women took place during Rosh Hashanah prayers, which began at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 1:30 p.m.  Magen Abraham members consider themselves a “traditional” rather than an orthodox community, and the synagogue follows the Sephardic tradition, in melody and in physical configuration.  The pulpit is in the middle and the congregation is seated on three sides around it.  Although women are not allowed on the pulpit or given an opportunity for an “Aliyah” to the Torah, curiously enough they were not opposed to individuals taking photographs or videotaping.  In fact a local Hindu photographer, Bindi Parekh, had received official permission to extensively document religious practice at the Magen Abraham Synagogue for an exhibition she is planning to mount for the wider Ahmedabad community in the next few months.

I noted that their prayer book was from Israel while I was comparing their Sephardic melodies with my own from the liberal Ashkenazic Jewish tradition in the States.  Except for the final “Adon Olam” song, very few melodies were familiar to me.  They have no rabbi. Their main chazzan and Hebrew teacher for the last 15 years has been Johny (short for Jonathan) Pingle.  Johny led the entire service single-handedly.  Aliyahs to the Torah were auctioned off at 11 a.m., and all monetary contributions for the High Holidays were duly inscribed in a notebook and announced to the entire congregation by Manessah Solomon, the synagogue’s secretary (and also the nephew of Esther Solomon). 

Their custom of greeting one another fascinated me.  They would clasp their hands around the hand of the person they were facing and then raise their thumb and index finger to kiss their own lips.  Each person made the rounds of the entire congregation to enact this ritual, which served as both greeting and blessing.

Very few children were present. Two of the post-Bar Mitzvah boys chatted amiably with me during the morning break, and Serena later told me they were very accomplished and could recite all the prayers for the service. Obviously, Hebrew learning and synagogue liturgy were considered essential for the younger generation. I did witness the young boys’ expert shofar blowing at the conclusion of the service.  The youngest member present that day, Ezer Diveker, age 11, also had a chance to blow the shofar. His father was nearby to videotape his son’s masterful turn on the curly four-foot ram’s horn, almost as big as the boy!

Young girl in the Magen Abraham synagogue of the Bene Israel community in Ahmedabad

Lunch was served afterwards on the covered patio next to the synagogue, and I was invited to join.  Rows of chairs had been set out in anticipation of the full congregation.  Each of us took our turn waiting in line for a vegetarian buffet of chapati (Indian bread), rice, the ubiquitous dahl (soup), spicy vegetables, fried spinach balls, and honeyed deep-fried dessert in the form of pinwheels—all served on stainless-steel plates with a spoon.  Chai with milk, heavy on the sugar, was also available.

I had been given an opportunity to speak to the community at the end of the morning service, and I was invited to come as far as the lowest step of the pulpit (women were not allowed to actually be on the pulpit).  I offered sincere thanks for being able to spend Rosh Hashanah with them, and I congratulated them on their stellar contributions to education in India and for being a “light onto the nations.”  In an emotional tone that surprised even me, I said although the melodies and dress were distinct, I felt at home with them, because “the Shema, the Torah, and Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, were all one.” I also mentioned that I was in India because I had been invited by the Brahma Kumari community to be a guest at a meditation retreat for interfaith leaders on Mt. Abu, about a four-hour drive from Ahmedabad.  I arrived a few days early to be able to celebrate the Jewish New Year with them, I explained.

My comments proved to be an important bridge to the congregants during lunchtime.

Edward Reubens, one of the congregants, a tall, elegant mustached man in his sixties, sought me out for a private conversation. He had been faithfully organizing interfaith activities among the local Abrahamic communities for the last three years, he said. But he confessed that not all of the members of the Bene Israel congregation were as eager to engage in interfaith engagement as he.  “What should I do?” he asked me earnestly.

I shared one of the most significant facts I learned about the Jews in India, and he nodded his head in enthusiastic confirmation. For more than two thousand years, their host country had never discriminated against them nor persecuted them, as has been the ongoing experience of Jews in most other countries around the world. That fact alone should serve as great encouragement for Jews in India to become interfaith activists and not to be fearful, I said.

Muslim merchants sell their goods outside the Magen Abraham synagogue

“Don’t lose heart,” I implored.  “You are a dedicated interfaith pioneer, and you need to know there are many Jews all over the world like yourself who know the importance and urgency of this work.” Edward nodded gratefully and confirmed another startling fact I had learned just that day during the Rosh Hashanah service. The Jews of India and the Muslims of India are on excellent terms, I was told, and the Israeli-Palestinian issue had not soured their relationships in business or socially.  “That is also a reason to rejoice,” I said, “because in the rest of the world the Middle East conflict continues to be the thorniest issue between Jews and Muslims and greatly hinders interfaith progress and chances for peace.”

As I took my leave, I urged Edward to stay in touch with me and wished him and the other congregants Shanah Tovah. Just outside the synagogue, the Muslim merchants were still busy with their customers. Two young Muslim men dressed in white walked by, deep in conversation, wheeling their bikes. A middle-aged Muslim woman wearing a hijab covering most of her face passed near me, her young son in tow.  Two Hindu women in colorful saris, their gold dangle earrings and multiple bracelets glinting in the sun, stared at me and then offered shy smiles.  A Sikh man on a motorcycle with a woman sitting side-saddle behind him suddenly darted out between two cars. Across the way I spied an ancient Persian fire-burning temple erected by the local Zoroastrian community.  Just another typical day in Ahmedabad.

There has to be a secret lesson somewhere in here, I muse.  In a country where Jews are welcome and have never known discrimination; in a country where Jewish educators are praised for offering top-quality education to Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jain children as well as their own Jewish children; in a country where a Jewish woman scholar is awarded the highest academic and governmental accolades for her contribution to Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and for her research on the philosophical traditions of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism and Janism; in a country where Israel’s existence does not inflame local Muslim citizens—as it does in neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh,  and Afghanistan; in just such a country there must be some crucial lesson for us to learn in order to be able to duplicate it in the world at large.

I contemplate that thought as I climb into a motorized rickshaw on my way back to my hostel.  My heart pounds, my breath quickens, and I find my hands gripping the side of the rickshaw as my driver navigates through a tortuous maze of bumper-to-bumper rickshaws, taxis, trucks, buses, vegetable carts, pedestrians, cows, goats, and dogs, with nary a traffic light in sight.

This is India, I tell myself, and it will never reveal all of its secrets. I find myself looking forward to my return to the Jewish community of Ahmedabad the following weekend for Yom Kippur, when praying next to a group of women wearing colorful sequined saris will no longer be a novelty.

Ruth Broyde Sharone, a Los Angeles documentary filmmaker and producer/director of the award-winning film God and Allah Need to Talk, is a passionate advocate for interfaith engagement.  Her book, Minefields and Miracles: A Global Adventure in Interfaith will be published this November.

Bnei Menashe in India get Sukkot’s four species

The Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India will celebrate Sukkot this year with lulavs and etrogs sent from Israel.

The Shavei Israel organization, which works to strengthen ties between the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world, sent hundreds of sets of the four species to India prior to the holiday.

The Bnei Menashe, Hebrew for “sons of Manasseh,” claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. They live in India’s northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram.

Some 1,700 Bnei Menashe live in Israel, including 450 who have arrived in the past three years and settled in the Upper Galilee. Approximately 7,300 remain in India.

“The Bnei Menashe are anxiously waiting for Israel’s government to pass a decision to allow them to come to Israel,”  Shavei Israel chairman and founder Michael Freund said in a statement. “We hope the new year will bring good news and that the age-old dream of the Bnei Menashe to return to the land of their ancestors will soon become a reality.”

From the Streets of Delhi: The give and take of learning with India’s street children

“Have you ever been to the Jama Masjid?” The little girl looks up at me with bright, intelligent eyes, the yellow of jaundice and malnutrition already receding from around her irises, a brightly colored scarf hiding the long, curved scar rising up from just behind her ear. She is one of our newer girls. She had arrived two weeks earlier while I was out of town, and we had just met.

The little girl was sitting in on the English class of her own volition. Like all new children during their first month at Dilse, she was in her adjustment period and had not yet been assigned to any specific learning group. As we worked on alphabets, she watched everything with squinting, critical eyes. Then she began tracing the letters on her worksheet with the loving reverence of a devotee, as if carefully and repeatedly writing out the holy names of God.

Soon we had learned two letters and their corresponding sounds, and we began blending — articulating the sound of each letter as I pointed to it, and slowly putting two letter sounds together to make a syllable.  Back and forth, back and forth — “A, T, T, A. Ahhh, Ttttaahhh — AT,” “Ttttaaahhh, Aaahhh — TA!” The little girl’s eyes widened when she saw the connection. We started clapping in time to our voices and adding on different consonants to our base syllable, “AT.” And suddenly the girl was reading. “Hhh-AT, HAT! Ffff-AT, FAT! Ccc-AT, CAT! FAT CAT!”

When she realized that the sounds she was decoding were actually words with meaning, she looked up at me, startled. Peels of her laughter ricocheted off shoulders and elbows and danced in the air above our heads. She jumped up and ran in circles around the group of us sitting on the mat in the yard, singing in a singsong voice, “Fat cat! Fat cat! Fat cat!” pointing her fingers up at the sides of her head like pointed little feline ears. The child before me had just had her first taste of what it means to be literate — she had decoded the letters into words, and the idea of what they represented had come alive to her.

Jewish tradition has always placed great value on education and literacy. In addition to encouraging us to explore our own frame of reference, we are taught to learn with others, that knowledge acquisition is symbiotic. The very format of rabbinic literature instructs us to actively engage with both material and fellow learners, to debate, question, analyze and wrestle with the matters at hand. I have always felt that Judaism presents learning as a means toward attaining a more present and involved existence. We are encouraged to be mindful and aware of how our actions in the everyday fit into the larger scheme of things, and we are pushed to always learn more and actively widen our worlds. When letters came alive and became words for her that day, the little girl with the head scarf got a taste of how wide the world can be, and her appetite was whetted.

Children from Ummeed Aman Ghar for Boys in Qutub Minar, Delhi, enjoying a moment of leisure. Photo courtesy of The Dilse Campaign, New Delhi.

A few minutes later, we moved on to a new activity — words that start with the letter “S.” The little girl was equally engaged, chattering on incessantly about every word she could think of that started with an “Sssss” sound. Yet in midalliteration, she looked up at me suddenly, her mouth still open in a tiny “o,” and she asked again, “Didi (older sister in Hindi-Urdu), have you ever been to the Jama Masjid?” The Jama Masjid, or Friday Mosque, is the biggest mosque in Delhi, in the heart of the old city, and I had been there numerous times in the previous few months. Surprised, I answered, “Yes, I have.”

“Do you ever go there to take pictures, and do you ever wear a headband over your hair?” The headband is a trademark feature of mine, but today, my hair is loose. Taken aback, I again answered in the affirmative. “But how do you know that? Did you used to live there?”

The girl nodded her head vigorously, pushed back her scarf in her excitement, and continued with her questions, “I saw you first during Ramzan (“Ramadan” in Urdu). Does a bhaia (older brother) go with you, and does he have a very big camera?”  And during Ramadan I had gone to the mosque with my friend, Marti, who uses a large reflex camera. At my answer, she erupted again into giggles, and I shook her hand warmly, unable to stop smiling, “Nice to meet you again, Fatima, it has been a long time!”

Fatima had been one of the little street urchins who run in packs around the grand mosque steps and into the surrounding lanes spidering out into the old city. When she saw me, she was one of hundreds of children competing to stake their claim over the wide swaths of city streets — bartering, making deals, and scavenging for food and recyclables according to unwritten codes of law I will most likely never be able to understand. At one point, she was living with her mother and older sister, both of them hooked on “solution”—the mix of cleaning and whitener fluid often sniffed along with glue — and working migrant construction and day-labor jobs. Often they spent their nights at the Old Delhi Railway Station or, during the cold season, in the tent camps outside of Meena Bazaar, the busy marketplace behind the Jama Masjid. Fatima is about 8 years old, and several months ago she saw me, a foreigner, entering her territory in the big mosque. Perhaps I spoke with her, or perhaps she only saw me from afar. Now somehow, thanks to a talented and committed field team, she is living and attending classes at one of our schools at the Dilse Campaign, where I have been developing education programs for the last year and a half.

Growing up in Los Angeles as the daughter of two rabbis, living walking distance from the synagogue of which we were members,  and attending Jewish day school, summer camp, youth group — the works — I was part of a very tightknit Jewish community. At the same time, l lived side by side with people of all different backgrounds and ethnicities in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Be it tearing through the neighborhood on roller skates or scooters, playing basketball or getting to know fellow dog-walkers and runners, I was taught that worlds and realities of these different communities are all fundamentally linked. We all eat much of the same food, breathe the same air, compete for many of the same jobs, get pulled over for the same traffic law violations, and when we seriously err, we get sent to the same jails.

Likewise, benei adam, human beings, in different parts of the world, different communities and different religions often suffer from eerily similar issues — economic disparity, unfair working conditions, unequal distribution of goods, lack of awareness on how to access basic amenities such as good education, comprehensive health care and much more. And I was always taught that a major part of Judaism’s commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world, means engaging with other “people groups,” working toward making everyone’s olam a better place.