How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is a memoir by Sarah Glidden about how she took a ‘birthright’ tour to Israel (which is free) to try to understand the Israel Palestine conflict.
This is a cliche but it is quite true that India is a country of rich diversity despite mainstream media and culture’s fervor to paint India as a monotonous abode of one particular religion, caste, class and gender. While we as Indians may live among a variety of people from different cultural backgrounds, how many of us really know each other well-their backgrounds, their religions, beliefs etc.? Lets leave you to ponder at that while we take a peek into one book that brilliantly etches out details of a community in India that has often been relegated to obscurity yet has made an unparalleled contribution to India’s growth and progress. Well, if you think that you have guessed correctly that I am going to ramble a para or two about the Parsis (who have undoubtedly contributed a lot for India’s progress), then you are absolutely wrong. Its not the Parsis I refer to but the Jewish community of India. And no, Jews don’t just exist in Israel and America, but India as well although their numbers have severely dwindled.
The book, ‘India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life Cycle‘ edited by Shalva Weil and published by Marg Publications provides any curious reader a wonderful insight into Jewish community and their lifestyle as a whole. It is an informative book replete with illustrations and written in simple, lucid language. The book helps to enlighten us about the community we always thought never existed in this country.
‘India’s Jewish Heritage…’ begins by informing us about the long contact between the Indians and the Jews and how they came on Indian shores. Throughout the 10 chapters the book traces their history citing valid sources, talks of how they assimilated with the Indian culture and adopted some existent customs while still retaining their own this forming a unique Jewish Indian cultural group. The book informs us right at the beginning that there are 3 Jewish communities in India-Cochin Jews, the Bene Israel and the Baghdadi Jews. Each chapter pours out details about the history, tradition and customs of each of the 3 communities. The last chapter dwells on the important contribution of the Jews in India and names certain eminent personalities describing their contributions. Mumbaikars may be familiar with the name Sassoon as in David Sassoon Library, Sassoon Docks etc.. The Sassoon family was a Baghdadi Jew dynasty that played a major role in the then Bombay’s development. Nissim Ezekiel is another well known Jewish personality (if not for everyone but at least known to literature students) who was a famous poet and professor. There are several others such as Leela Samson, Isaac Kehimkar, Flora Samuel etc who left a indelible mark on this diverse country.
‘India’s Jewish Heritage…‘ is undoubtedly a hallmark in Indo-Jewish studies. You may not like non-fiction works but stepping into the world that this book portrays is like stepping into an encyclopedia and reliving that feeling of childhood when you would be boggled by your own thirst for knowledge and the facts before you. The book is concise and clear. It acquaints us with a much less talked about community and helps us to know one minuscule patch on a large and varied Indian quilt.
‘Night‘ by Elie Wiesel is not a book for the faint hearted or for those looking for a casual read. The book maybe thin but don’t judge it by the size. Its profound impact on the reader goes beyond its volume.
The book deals with the Holocaust-one of the brutal genocides in 20th century. Wiesel was just a teenager living in a nondescript town of Sighet in Transylvania when the Nazi troops came and bullied all the Jews into ghettos and eventually the concentration camp. Wiesel was separated from his mother and sisters and had only his father along with him.
‘Night‘ is a heart wrenching autobiographical account of Wiesel’s own horrifying experience in several concentration camps-from Buna to Auschwitz and eventually to Buchenwlad. It talks of unimaginable horrors that Wiesel himself suffered and saw all around him, being meted out to countless Jews in the camps. It records Wiesel’s own struggles, his gradual disillusionment in God, his numbness towards all the suffering around him, his love and support for his father and the eventual disappearance of that support, of innocence and the appearance of a self centered thinking that was sowed by the brutality he witnessed in the camps.
The reader sees the transformation that Wiesel went through and how life in the concentration camps made animals out of humans, how it sapped the hope of the most optimistic person and sapped the most devout person of his faith.
Page after page will make the reader cringe, force him/her to feel the pain, ponder on how anyone could survive such colossal pain, ponder on how such a mass genocide was allowed to take place. Hopefully the book will etch the story in the reader’s mind forever so that they never forget-Wiesel’s aim in writing this book in the first place. Hopefully, readers will remember the Holocaust, because as Wiesel puts it,”to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”(pg. XV,’Night‘ by Elie Wiesel,Hill and Wang Publication, First Edition,2006).
Moreover, what I hope the readers will take away from this book, is that we, as readers, should intervene if and when such genocides happen because Holocaust is by no means the last such genocide. They keep happening and continue even in the 21st century-the so called progressive age. It is imperative that we learn from history, from one man’s ordeal that such horrors must never be allowed to happen because that strip humans of the humanity that we are all entitled to.