We are beginning to finalize our second India Issue of Asian Jewish Life and perfectly timed, we have just received a copy of Indian Jews – An Annotated Bibliography 1665 – 2005 (Manohar, 2013) by Nathan Katz. Katz is a professor of religious studies at Florida International University, where he founded and directs its Program in the Study of Spirituality. He is also a pioneer in the field of Indo-Judaic studies as well as the author and editor of countless books and articles on the subject.
Indian Jews – An Annotated Bibliography 1665 – 2005 is the product of three decades of research. It is organized by community and includes sections on: Cochin Jews, Bene Israel, Mughal Jews, Baghdadi (and Sephardi Jews), Ashkenazim in India, and Tribal Jews. Each section is further divided into resource type (my personal favorite being memoir).
It has quickly become an indispensible resource in our own collection. This book is highly recommended for scholars, students and general readers looking for a comprehensive guide.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling Australian author Morris Gleitzman. While he is well known for his humourous children's books, it was the book Once that got my attention. Once is the incredibly moving fictional journey of a boy, named Felix, during the Holocaust. Once was followed by Then, Now and After.
If you are in Hong Kong, Gleitzman is leading a number of interactive sessions for children as part of the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival 2014.
His books are yet another great way for Hong Kong students to be exposed to the lessons learned from the Holocaust.
As for his festival appearance, on March 16- 17, it is a wonderful opportunity for students to be inspired and to learn to draw on their own personal experiences to begin writing.
(Photos courtesy of the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival)
An exhibition preview of Surviving Evil- The Pictorial Language of Sara Atzmon was held on 25 February 2014 at the University Museum and Art Gallery of The University of Hong Kong. The exhibition was a result of the incredible collaboration of the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center (HKHTC), the Goethe-Institut Hongkong and the University of Hong Kong Museum and Art Gallery.
And while Sara Atzmon's art certainly spoke for itself, she was also present to deliver a moving and powerful address that detailed her journey from her childhood in Hungary, through the horrors of the Holocaust and then ultimately to Israel. Her speech was presented in Hebrew and later translated as she explained that the language of Hebrew must be heard outside of Israel also.
Atzmon explained in her speech and through her art that "the pain is constantly there" and she spoke of the difficulty of openning old wounds. Her work is a haunting reminder of the devestation suffered and a powerful call for rememberance.
Consul General of the State of Israel in Hong Kong Sagi Karni, in his address, reminded that our culture is built on memory. He pointed to the irony of the openning of this exhibition in Hong Kong while hundreds of copies of Anne Frank's diary have been destroyed in Tokyo. This further speaks to the importance of such an exhibition in the Far East.
Surviving Evil – The Pictorial Languague of Sara Atzmon runs from February 26th through May 4th at the University Museum and Art Gallery on 90 Bonham Road from 9:30-18:00 on Mondays through Saturdays and from 13:00-18:00 on Sundays.
Following a representative participation in the regional Limmud China in Beijing in 2012 and in Shanghai in 2013, the Indian Jewish community of Mumbai created their own local event in early November 2013. With the sponsorship of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), this community’s inaugural Limmud event drew in 115 adults and 17 children as registered participants. A parallel Young Limmud kept the children occupied while the adults took full advantage of the opportunity to learn, engage and socialize in the dynamic environment that they created for themselves.
As community member and Limmud organizer Florence Haeems explains, she was interested in helping bring Limmud to the community because she was attracted to the idea of being able to present a session, participate in other sessions and then to also volunteer. And this is exactly what the Limmud experience is about. As Haeems says, “it beautifully comes together.”
The nine individual sessions while presenting wider Jewish issues and topics, also were representative of a very distinct local flavor. Key sessions included topics such as: Healthy Jewish Cooking, a Panel Discussion on Successful Jews in Business and session on the Future of the Indian Jewish community.
The event was an incredible unifying force and a source of positive energy for Jewish India on both an individual and a communal level. Individual participants felt empowered by the increased sense of ownership that they gained over their own Jewish learning and were likewise inspired by truly being part of something so much greater.
As Nurith Samuel, another organizer explained, “I experienced Limmud in all its exuberance during the earlier half of this year at Shanghai. What I loved about Limmud was the feeling of being involved, accepted and responsible for the program, starting right at the registration desk itself! As both a participant and volunteer at Limmud, I was responsible for my own learning as well as ensuring that my co-participants and volunteers had positive learning outcomes. This feeling of being responsible for oneself as well as others in your environment pushed me into thinking about organizing a Limmud India. As part of the small Bene Israel community in Mumbai, I have come to value the idea of being responsible for others and hope that at the end of Limmud India some participants come to value this idea too.”
Overall, Salome Abraham, JDC staff member as well as a Limmud team member/ organizer summarized, “An event like Limmud India brings together people of ages and backgrounds. For the first time, we witnessed young professionals, accomplished businessmen, children, families, and college students all together under one roof…It was a chance for this community to strengthen the network of Jewish individuals who come together from time to time to celebrate their Jewish identity and feel responsible for their people and take steps in that direction.”
This exhibition, featuring artwork by the Children of the Terezin Camp, also showcases artwork produced by pupils from Hong Kong schools as well as information panels about different aspects of the Holocaust and other genocides. It is a useful learning tool for all children learning about World War II, but it is much more than that. It is an important segway into discussions on racism and tolerance generally.
The three dimensional artwork was particularly impactful.
The exhibition will run from October 15-November 15, 2013 in the Central Market Walkway (between Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road).
The fact that an exhibition of this importance has been given a location so central in Hong Kong is a tremendous statement as to the character of the people of Hong Kong.
For more information, see the article in The Times of Israel: http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-a-hong-kong-walkway-a-very-public-holocaust-exhibit/
Elsa High School, part of Hong Kong’s Carmel School Association, held its first graduation on 21 May 2013. This was a first for Hong Kong Jewry, being home to the Far East’s only Jewish secondary school. The last time a Jewish school held a high school graduation in the greater China region was nearly 70 years ago in Shanghai.
The question inevitably is how big was this graduating class? While the answer to that is four, it is not only four. This is the first of many graduates in a school built on a community’s dreams.
Graduation keynote speaker Yotam Polizer, of IsraAID, gave a speech of particular relevance to question of the size of this class. He spoke of the relative size of Israel in comparison to other countries and the relative minute size of the number of Jewish people in the world, but the greatness in terms of capacity and the ability for Jews to make a difference irrespective of numbers. It was a message of the Jewish people’s ability to act as a positive force for change in the world, of tikkun olam. He spoke of his own passion for the field of humanitarian aid and the difference that one small act can make in another’s life.
The school is evidence of making the seemingly impossible into a reality. The founders see this as just a start and evidence of what even a small community can accomplish. The Carmel School Association, from its very start, made the decision to adopt an Orthodox ethos but to maintain a pluralistic admissions policy. While this can be seen as merely a sensible decision given the challenges of attracting a critical mass from a community of only 4000-5000 Jews total, it is also actually a statement as to how tightknit this community is.
With one Jewish community center and one school, this community that is diverse in terms of national identity, mother tongue, affiliation and observance levels has built a Jewish center for 21st learning that can boast an IB program, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation, state-of-the-art technology and certainly not least of all Jewish education and very Jewish values in the Far East.
China wants to learn more about Israel and its people. This month marked the culmination of cooperation between Israeli government and non-government institutes and organizations when two Israeli Studies Programs in China received packages of books and journals directly from Israel. SIGNAL (Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership) worked alongside the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies to collect books, journals, memorandums etc. on Israel and get them to Chinese universities with Israel Studies Programs.
Until 2011, there were no Israeli Studies Program in China. But as commercial interactions between the two countries continued to grow, China took active interest in exploring the deeper parallels between the Jewish State and the Middle Kingdom, home to ancient civilizations. Israel and the PRC were founded within a year of each other.
Aware of changes in China, SIGNAL established the first Israel Studies Program (ISP) at a Chinese university in 2011 at Sichuan International Studies University (SISU) in Chongqing. Since this historic moment where Israel entered the Chinese curriculum for the first time, SIGNAL has been working to establish Israeli Studies Programs at universities across China to bring the two nations closer together. In addition to the program at SISU, SIGNAL has established Israel Studies Programs at Shihezi University in Xinjiang, Henan University and Shanghai International Studies University. Two additional ISPs are being established in 2013 in south China's Yunnan Province at Yunnan University under the School of International Studies and in central China in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province at Northwest University under the Middle East Studies department.
In China, ISPs educate about Israel helping prevent misunderstandings of the Jewish State and its people. A recent report by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) suggested that the growth of Israel Studies programs [in the USA] has been a resounding success in reshaping anti-Israel attitudes.