01. Israel: A journey – prolonged yet successful!

“In Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest national advantage: our minds. Through creativity and innovation, we transformed barren deserts into flourishing fields and pioneered new frontiers in science and technology.”

– Shimon Peres

The above are words expressed by Shimon Peres, the Israeli leader who served not only as Interim Prime Minister but also held the top offices of both Prime Minister and President of his country, during his political career spanning 70 long years. His sentiment, by no means excessive, is in fact a crisp yet faithful depiction of what Israel the nation, is all about.

Peres’s statement actually stands testimony to the kind of progress and development that this tiny little nation, stretched over all of about 20 thousand seven hundred square kilometers, constantly battling adversities has achieved, all thanks to its relentless perseverance.

Moreover, that a super power like the United States too, feels the need to be friends with Israel, only highlights its position in the current global political scenario.

Coming to think of it, it was around 70 years ago that Israel came into existence as an independent nation. However, the documented and known history of the people of Israel, i.e. of the Jews, dates back to a good four thousand years, of which the significant events of the first two thousand years even find mention in the ‘Bible’, the most sacred text of the Christians.

Judaism, the religion of the Jews, falls back on the one pivotal and basic principle viz. ‘One God, one Religion, one Land’. That ‘Abraham (original name – Abram) had a vision, in which God commanded him to bring together all people, who subscribed to the principle that ‘God is basically one’ and form a religion for them. God then accorded to them, the land of ‘Palestine’ to dwell.’ Judaism weaves around this fundamental concept; and firm faith in this one concept, handed down from one generation to the next over the last four thousand years helped it to strike root and grow. May we note however, that the land of ‘Palestine’ referred to above, does not imply the ‘Palestine’ of current times. The whole of present day Israel in addition to the neighbouring regions, was what ‘Palestine’ meant in the reference.

Moreover, during this extensive period, the Palestine of those times suffered repeated attacks from several Muslim, Arab and Roman invaders and consequently the Jews found themselves expelled from their land. The Jewish community thus evicted, then spread all across the world. So, this community that had all along had to battle adversity, learned never to lose sight of reality and thus also to be practical in their approach. Consequently, in every region that the Jewish diaspora travelled to, they worked their way up diligently, found their feet and there too, began to walk the path of progress.

The world canvass shows several Jews at the zenith in their respective fields. Great scientists like Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Neils Bohr; the famous American diplomat Henry Kissinger; actors like Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Streisand, Ben Kingsley who ruled over the hearts of their fans worldwide; producer-directors Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen; musician-violinist of international repute Yehudi Menuhin; fashion designers Calvin Klein, Levi Strauss; one of the few women-Prime Ministers in the world – Golda Meir; and the list goes on! Irrespective of their lands of birth that depended on the places their parents migrated to, these stalwarts reached the pinnacle of their fields owing to their one distinctive quality, viz. their zealous passion and resolute spirit.

However, down the centuries and over generations, there kept burning a fire, blazing and alive, in the mind of every person of Jewish origin: ‘We will regain our land at all costs – the land that God promised us, the land that is rightfully ours!’ So then, their every step was taken with this intent and their every action, was done with this one purpose. They thus always remained connected with their roots.

Banished from Palestine, just like they travelled and spread all over the world, the Jews travelled to India as well. It is learnt that the Jews have been living in India for more than two thousand years. Travelogues of many foreign traders are known to contain records that indicate that Jews have been living in India for several generations. In his memoirs, the well-known Venetian trader, Marco Polo, who traveled to India and to other Asian countries, talks about the Jewish settlements along the western border of India. The Jews there, he writes, had been living for generations and several families among these had worked their way to prosperity. Incidentally, it is believed that it was through the travelogues of Marco Polo that revealed for the first time, to the European population, all about India and its wealth, and later inspired Christopher Columbus to undertake a voyage to India.

In sum, India and Israel have shared informal relations since olden times. Both the cultures are ages old and evidence validating the ancient ties between the two have come to the fore. Both these nations have suffered the pain of foreign rule and have always stood up to the challenges of terrorism. Yet, both the nations walked the path of democracy – not straying, come what may. Israel is, in all probability, the only democracy among the countries of the Middle-East.

In the month of July this year (2017), the Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi visited Israel. The visit was organized to commemorate the completion of 25 years of political ties shared by the two nations.

Actually speaking, India and Israel became independent around the same time, the precise days of attaining independence being a mere 9 months apart. It has thus been 70 years of independence for both. Yet, Shri Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in this period of 70 years. As for the answer to the question, ‘why so?’, we will surely take it up for discussion at an appropriate point in time.

And so now, it has become the need of the hour that India and Israel, two nations that achieved independence around the same time, come together to brave the challenges that come their way.

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar, the author of this series is a Jew of Indian origin. For the last 42 years she has been living in Israel and works in the logistics sector of one of the leading companies in the country.