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Mumbai Jews feel unsafe, threatened

Mumbai's tiny Jewish community feels itself under threat for the first time in hundreds of years in the wake of the deadly attacks of November 26 that included a bloody two-day siege at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish centre.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2008 23:56 IST

Mumbai's tiny Jewish community feels itself under threat for the first time in hundreds of years in the wake of the deadly attacks of November 26 that included a bloody two-day siege at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish centre.

“It's like a wake-up call. We are a tolerant society, we've never had any anti-Semitism at all here in India,” said Elijah Jacob, a local Jewish leader. “We can't remain complacent any more.”

The attacks that killed 171 people targeted some of the city's best-known landmarks: two luxury hotels, a cafe famous with tourists and one of Mumbai's busiest train stations. During the panic, few noticed that another pair of gunmen had invaded the nondescript Nariman House on a back alleyway.

The building served as a Jewish centre run by an American-Israeli rabbi from the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement that acted as a spiritual oasis for travelling Jewish backpackers and visiting businessmen. By the time commandos shot the gunmen dead two days later, six people — all Jewish foreigners — had been killed.

The local Jewish community was in shock.

With only 5,000 Jews in a city of 18 million people, they barely made a ripple and had never been targeted. “We only consist of an iota of the entire population in India. We’re a drop in the ocean,” said Solomon Sopher, president of the Indian Jewish Congress.

The community also had especially tight relations with local Muslims, said Jonathan Solomon, chairman of the Indian Jewish Federation. Brought together by similar dietary laws and other shared cultural values, the two groups historically lived in the same neighbourhoods, and two schools run by a Jewish trust educate predominantly Muslim students, he said.

Many Jews said the attack would not cause a rift among the local communities, emphasizing that neither the Muslim attackers, nor the Jewish victims in the centre were from India. The gunmen were likely drawn to their target by their anger with Israel, rather than any conflict with the local Jewish community, Solomon said.

Sopher agreed that the attack did seem aimed at foreigners, yet “it does to a certain extent make us feel more vulnerable than ever before”.