Jews Targeted in Mumbai

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on December 1, 2008

The Chabad House in Mumbai, where terrorists murdered the young rabbi, his wife and several others during last week’s attacks, is relatively new. Six years ago, the first time I spent a Shabbat in the city, there was no Chabad yet in Mumbai. There was the historic synagogue in the Fort area, down the street from the Sassoon Library, which is where I went to pray. It was an impressive old building, with a baby blue facade and a large but a bit dilapidated interior. (The Jewish community in Mumbai, the Bene Israel, had seen better days, as many people had left for Israel or elsewhere.)

On that Friday night, I was one of eight men - a problem because you need ten men to make a minyan, the quorum necessary to say kaddish and some other prayers. The situation seemed bleak, and then suddenly arrived a group of several dozen people from India’s northeast, home to a group called the Bnei Menashe that claims to be descendants from one of the Ten Lost Tribes.(The claim is not as strange as it sounds. See Hillel Halkin’s excellent book, “Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel.”) They were on their way to Israel and were staying the weekend in Mumbai. Having received much of their formal Judaism education from Ashkenazim who help people claiming connections to the Jewish people through the Ten Lost Tribes, the visitors didn’t have much in common with the local Jews: The men wore white shirts, black trousers and wide-brimmed black hats, the standard uniform of haredim in Brooklyn or Jerusalem, not the secular Jews of Mumbai; the visitors also had different styles of singing some of the songs, since the Bnei Menashe had long lived in isolation and never had any connection to Jews in other parts of India. (At one point, one of the local Jews turned to me, a puzzled look on his face, looking for explanation from the American of what these newcomers were doing.) Still, our lonely group of eight men were thrilled to get the reinforcements. Our numbers bolstered, we gladly concluded the evening prayers.

Afterwards, I asked an old-timer about anti-semitism and whether a Jew wearing a kippah (yarmulke) needed to worry while walking the streets of the neighborhood. Of course not, he told me. This was Mumbai.

Last week, while the battles at the Taj and the Oberoi were still raging, reports circulated that the terrorists were singling out Americans and Britons to murder them. That seems not to have been true, according to Oberoi executive Rattan Keswani, quoted in the New York Times. But there’s no doubt the rabbi, the rebbetzin and the others in Chabad House were targeted because they were Jews. In the Times, Mumbai native and NYU professor Suketu Mehta writes, “And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.”

Reader Comments

Chittar Kumar

December 1, 2008 12:57 PM

“And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.” I am sorry that such a statement had to be written. I have always been proud of the fact that India is one of a handful of countries where anti-semitism is non-existant. The Hindus have zero animosity towards Jews and can't even distinguish between Jews and Christians. A few local Muslims may dislike Jews because of the Palestine issue but the majority in general do not hate the Jews. I honestly pray that with this single incident, the Jews do not stop coming to India or the local Jews do not migrate to Israel. India will definitely be very poor without the Jews in our diaspora.

Anjali Sharma

December 2, 2008 12:26 PM

I totally agree with Chittar Kumar. Even I can't distinguish between a Jew and a Christian! I don't even care to distinguish as long as all are humans.

JHS

December 2, 2008 2:59 PM

I agree with the previous reader. Anti-semitism in India is non-existent. Indians don't share the religious and historical context of antisemitism in Europe and the Middle-east. Hindus have no problem with Jews; muslims may share some resentment due to Palestine issue.

The terrorists at Chabad house seem to be interested in making a statement to the global audience rather than creating problems for the local jews, who are an extreme minority. It is hard to imagine that these attacks will create an anti-semitic wave.

Raj

December 3, 2008 1:09 AM

I think Businessweek is irresponsibly making statements of this nature. Islamic terrorists bred on propaganda will obviously single out Jews, but they will also single out Hindus.

If its dangerous to be a Jew in India, then the same would also be applicable for Hindus.

I request the Businessweek team to apply their mind and write sensible articles.

Ilyguz

December 3, 2008 3:29 AM

I totally agree with Raj. Many non-jewish died during the attacks and it is not only unfair but irresponsible from the writer to try to make it an anti-semitism issue, when almost 200 people from all nationalities and religions were killed.

Rosh

December 3, 2008 4:10 AM

I totally agree with Raj. It is very clear that the terrosits were not just targeting the americans and brits but also the jews.. That is mainly becuase the terrosits were muslims.

If they were of some other race / nationality it is obviouse that they would target thier rivals.

Jews or Hindus,or for that any nationality, terrorists are there to create chaos and devour innocent human lives.

Vasan

December 3, 2008 1:34 PM

I agree with Raj. It is as ridiculous to say that fling is dangerous in America after 09/11.As an Indian,I am still finding it difficult to digest that these things have happened in my motherland.However, with such an incident, one can stereotype.India is a resilient country and for once it is important for the country to shed away this resilience and act with utmost urgency in putting an end to these terrorists activities that happens in our soil.It is time for revamping our Political,Judicial and the homeland security measures.

Post a comment

 

About

Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

BW Mall - Sponsored Links

Buy a link now!