Israelis are smitten by the charms of India’s cultural heritage.
Smitten by the India “bug,” many in Israel are to an attentive audience spreading the word about the magical and multilayered charms of an ancient civilisation that has been inherited by the young. In Tel Aviv, Merav Yossef-Levi is one such Indophile, who is leading a dedicated personal crusade to familiarise Israelis with the entire gamut of Indian popular culture under a single roof. “As a student I was completely taken in by India. It soon became my life’s mission that — focused on Bollywood — I would draw Israelis into the cornucopia of India’s cultural heritage in its varied forms,” she says.
A chance meeting in London with the luminaries of Dharma Productions got her truly started. With help from UTV motion pictures that had established a tie up with Dharma productions, Hindi movies began to flow into Israel. “But it has not been an easy journey. I still have to work, fame-by-frame on sub-titling the films in Hebrew — something that absorbs several painstaking hours,” observes Merav. The screening is just one part of an elaborate exercise. It would begin with Merav initiating the film before it is rolled out — triggering an elaborate larger discussion on fears, hopes and concerns, mostly about new India. During intermissions, typical Indian snacks — samosas, burfi and much more; sometimes procured locally from Israelis of Indian origin, contribute to the impartment of the Indian cultural experience.
Going way beyond pure entertainment, Merav took Amir Khan’s classic Taare Zameen Par to local schools in order to sensitise teachers and parents to humanise education for the very young. Merav’s spirited project of bringing Indians and Israelis together through the medium of culture goes by name Hodu (India) Masala.
Merav has also co-hosted radio talks, inviting other like-minded individuals, including Dani Abrahimi to her shows. Like many educated Israelis, Dani is by training a computer engineer, who left a well-paying job in a high-tech company to do something different.
The 37-year-old has launched his website hodu.co.il, which organises visits in droves of young Israelis into India. “I want Israelis to experience India by interacting with the local population, though that is not always possible.” He adds: “If you as an Israeli want to eat a pizza in Pushkar or listen to Bob Marley there… that is not experiencing India.”
Dani says that most Israelis, on long vacations that last at least a month, travel to India in September to take advantage of a religious holiday in Israel. These are mostly backpackers, who sometimes have done a stint in military service, and are in search of a novel de-stressing experience in a picturesque unspoilt setting.
Many do the 10-point trail that typically covers Leh, Manali, the Parvati Valley and Rishikesh among others. Hampi in the south is yet another favourite destination.