Indian expatriates nestled across the world may be losing touch with their mother tongues, but Maharashtrian language,
literature and culture is being kept alive in one of the most unlikely corners of the map – Israel.
More than 30,000 Indian Jews, who began migrating to Israel in 1950, still recognise Marathi as their mother tongue and are striving to preserve the culture of their motherland in their new fatherland.
Their unique situation inspired Canada-based Marathi author, Dr Vijay Dhavale, to pen a book whose English translation, Maharashtra in Israel, was launched by the Indian Jewish Federation at Dadar’s Pracharya B. N. Vaidya Sabhagraha on Thursday evening.
“Even third generation Maharashtrian Jews in Israel today can speak, read and write in Marathi,” said Dhavale, who was invited to Jerusalem last year as the chief guest for the annual literary function of Mai Boli, a Marathi periodical published in Israel.
“Even though the Jews have fought bravely for their common land, race and culture, the one from Maharashtra still celebrate all the Indian festivals there, be it Diwali or Ganesh utsav,” said Dhavale.
Dhavale’s book emphasises the fact that India has been the only country in the world where there was no hostility towards Jews. In the 1950’s, in fact, trams in Mumbai would issue special coupons to Jews to use on Saturday, the holy day when the community does not engage in monetary transactions.
When Israel was formed in 1948, it was meant to be a melting pot for all Jews across the world. “Over the years, however, everyone realised that they wanted to preserve the cultures of their countries of origin,” said the consul general of Israel to Mumbai, Orna Sagiv, who was present at the launch.
Applauding India’s friendly stance towards Jews, she added that she did not perceive the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai as anti-Semitic. “The attack was part of a global terrorist movement which we all need to fight,” she said.
While Marathi Jews in Israel are maintaining their distinct Indian identities, the Indian Jewish Federation, stressed the need for minority rights for the community that has blended so well.