Narendra Modi's visit to Israel

Spices, masala chai, Bollywood in the promised land

Narendra Modi speaks to Liora Itzhak and Benjamin Netanyahu

Narendra Modi speaks to Liora Itzhak and Benjamin Netanyahu

As she serves cups of spiced masala tea in her home in this small town outside Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel, Liora Itzhak says she has learned to blend her Indian origins with her Israeli upbringing.

“When my parents moved here [with me], I picked up Hebrew first, and I would have to translate for them at shops and help them get around,” she says.

Now, Ms. Itzhak is a professional singer, who has sung Bollywood film and Israeli pop songs, with her first full album, Mala Mala , making waves here. As a result of her growing popularity, Ms. Itzhak has been chosen to sing the Indian and Israeli national anthems at the diaspora event for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.


Ms. Itzhak represents the fastest growing part of the Indian-Israeli community of an estimated 80,000 Jews who migrated from various parts of India mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s the “second-generation” that grew up here. For them, the visit of Narendra Modi, the first Indian Prime Minister here, represents an important point of recognition for the community in a country where they are still finding their feet. “The community here is not that well off compared with those in the U.S. and the U.K. People moved here on the basis of their religion, not [for economic reasons],” Indian Ambassador to Israel Pavan Kapoor says.

Spread of the diaspora

When they arrived here, as Bene Israelis from Maharashtra, Cochini Jews from Kerala, Baghdadi Jews and more recently, the B’nai Manache from Mizoram and Manipur, the community spread out according to the jobs available. Cochini Jews moved into farming communities, others found homes in the southern Negev desert town of Eilat, most of the Bene Israelis went into services such as engineering, hotels, restaurants and clerical work.


Michael Daniel, 68, a municipal worker in the town of Be’er Ya’akov who came here as a 16-year-old student, says bringing them together for the diaspora event will be an uphill task. He has volunteered to round up the numbers, with nearly 5,000 expected. As he surveys the hall at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds, one of the chief organisers, Avner Isaac, says the logistics and funding have been the hardest part.


Most Indian-Israelis one meets here say they would like to press both Prime Ministers for more flights between the two countries (at present the El-Al airlines operates a flight only three days a week to Mumbai) and easier visa processes. But Mr. Isaac wants to ask for more: his dream is to build a “Jewish-Indian heritage centre” to curate the stories of the Indian community in Israel. “We ‘second-generationers’ still follow many customs, some unique to India like the puja to bless all new things called Malida,” he says. “But my children have blended into the melting pot here in Israel. They have completed their military training, and see themselves as Israelis, not as Indian-Israelis. I hope we can make this cultural centre so this third generation, and the fourth don’t forget where we came from.”

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2022 4:43:22 am |