Held with a gap of a month, in two very different cities, the seminars signal the advent of Jewish and Israel studies in India as an academic discipline and pave the way for India’s first center for Israel studies, scheduled to become functional in August this year.
It was interesting to see Afghan and Jewish studies take the center stage at a three-day international seminar on “Cultural Dynamics in Asian Connections” held at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies in Kolkata, India, in mid March.
It was interesting given the fact that Jewish studies are not a recognized academic discipline in India, though Jews have been present in the country for at least twelve centuries and possibly two millennia. Yet Jewish studies found more room than any other field.
The seminar saw the participation of four Afghans, three Jews, a secular humanist Pashtun from India, besides a number of scholars from many other countries, like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and Lebanon.
Seminar participants (Photo: Tazpit News Agency)
The seminar touched upon a broad spectrum of topics. Yael Silliman spoke about women’s narratives as they appear in her book "A Diaspora of Hope: The Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta." The narratives raised the issues of identity, gender and what it means to live in Diaspora and be part of a traveling community.
Taking forward the discussion of identity, the present author drew attention to the ambivalence the Indian Jews have always faced when it comes to their dual identity of being Indian as well as Jewish, in the paper he presented, titled “Between Indianness and Jewishness: The Ambivalence of Indian Jews as Reflected in Literature, Cinema and Art."
Israeli sculptor and scholar Achia Anzi, who gives Hebrew lessons at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, mourns and longs for the lost ideals and vision of Zionism through an introduction to his artistic work, which has emerged for him as a means to deal with the spiritual crisis, besides the political and social, that Israel is experiencing today according to him.
His presentation was titled “Peaceful be your return O lovely bird, from warm lands back to my window…”, which was also the title of his first solo exhibition held at Gallery Threshold in New Delhi in March last year.
The other seminar to focus on Jewish and Israel Studies took place in mid April, a month after the seminar at the Maulana Abul Kalam Institute of Asian Studies in Kolkata. This seminar, titled “Israel: Perspectives on a State in Transition” was jointly organized by O. P. Jindal Global University and the Middle East Institute at the university’s campus in Sonipat, Haryana.
The seminar, convened by Dr. Rohee Das Gupta of the Jindal School of International Affairs, an imminent scholar of Ashkenazim, saw the participation of scholars from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Washington University, Brandeis University and the Gautam Buddha University.
It had two panels, one on "Israeli Identity, History and Democracy" and the other on "Israeli Military Strategy and Conflict," and keynote lectures by Professor P. R. Kumaraswamy of Jawaharlal Nehru University, author of "India’s Israel Policy and Dr. Maina Chawla Singh of Washington University, author of "Being Indian, Being Israeli: Migration, Ethnicity and Gender in the Jewish Homeland."
Reprinted with permission from the Tazpit News Agency