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Mumbai Jews on edge after attacks in India

india Updated: Dec 04, 2008 15:52 IST
Mumbai Jews on edge after attacks in India

Mumbai's tiny Jewish community feels itself under threat for the first time in hundreds of years in the wake of the deadly attacks by suspected Muslim militants that included a bloody two day siege at an ultra Orthodox Jewish center. Jews in Mumbai said they had always considered themselves safe amid the tapestry of religions and ethnicities that make up this bustling city. Now, they are not so sure.

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

The Nov 26 attacks that killed 171 people targeted some of this 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 center run by an American Israeli rabbi from the ultra Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement that acted as a spiritual oasis for traveling Jewish backpackers and visiting businessmen. By the time Indian commandos shot the gunmen dead two days later, six people inside the building 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 in city life and had never been targeted for attack. "We only consist of an iota of the entire population in India. We are 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 neighborhoods, and two schools run by a Jewish trust now 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 center were from India.

The government has blamed the attack on an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan, saying the attackers trained for months in Lashkar-e-Taiba camps there.

The gunmen were likely drawn to their target by their anger with Israel, rather than any conflict with the local Jewish community, Solomon said.

"We are the unintended victims of this attack. There have been Indian Jews since time immemorial and we have not just been tolerated but treated with love and affection by all sections of the community, especially the Muslims," he said. "It is this outside influence that is playing havoc with our life in this country." 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."

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