Jaishankar said that the “real thrust, however, is to expand the innovation and trade partnership between our two knowledge economies”

India and Israel share similar challenges to their societies from radicalism and terrorism apart from many other emerging developments on the geopolitical landscape, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has told the Indian Jewish community and Indologists here.

Jaishankar, on his first visit to Israel as External Affairs Minister, hailed the Indian Jewish community’s manifold contributions to the centuries-old ties between the two countries.

The minister, who arrived here on Sunday on a five-day official visit, said that he was confident that the Indian Jewish community in Israel will bring the two countries even closer together in the coming years. He said that this is his third visit to Israel in the last four years, but every time he returns, he leaves with the sense of an unfinished journey.

“Like India, this too is a place that requires a lifetime to discover and understand. I am, therefore, happy to be back here, in a land with which we have centuries-old ties, and amidst you who are the umbilical cord nourishing these ties”, he said.

Jaishankar pointed out that India’s bilateral relations with Israel have been in a qualitatively different trajectory in the last few years.

“Our two countries share values of democracy and pluralism. We also share some of our guiding civilizational philosophies: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in India, or the world is one family, and Tikun Olam in Israel, or heal the world.

“We also share similar challenges to our society from radicalism and terrorism, apart from many other emerging developments on the geopolitical landscape,” Jaishankar said without elaborating.

India has been facing major threats emanating from across the border from Pakistan and Israel is also surrounded by hostile neighbors. India and Israel have a Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism and the two countries also share real-time intelligence to deal with the menace.

Jaishankar said that the “real thrust, however, is to expand the innovation and trade partnership between our two knowledge economies”.

For example, he noted that the two countries collaborated to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Can we take that to the next level? How should we further augment the contact and collaboration between scientists, students, and start-ups? I’ll be discussing these issues, and others, in my meetings during my visit,” Jaishankar said.

Jaishankar said that four years ago, he had the honor to accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his historic visit to Israel during which he had said that India’s relationship with its Jewish diaspora community in Israel is one of “mutual trust and friendship”. The Jewish diaspora in India remains unique because “like other communities, it coexisted peacefully in India for hundreds of years but maintained its Jewish identity despite a long isolation from other Jewish communities”, he said.

“You chose to begin a new life here mainly for civilizational reasons. And it is rare in Jewish history that you have had a long, continuous period where you thrived in freedom and equality, as you did in India,” he stressed.

Citing ancient connections between the two civilizations — both cultural and religious, Jaishankar applauded the contribution of Indian Jews in the nation-building process of India, describing them as “one of us”.

The central text of Rabbinic Judaism, Talmud, mentions trade with India in ginger and iron. Another foremost religious text, The Book of Esther, mentions India as Hodu.

“You have contributed to the building of India. We often go around Mumbai and Pune not realizing that many landmarks were your contributions, like the Sassoon Docks in Mumbai and the Sassoon Hospital in Pune. David Sassoon was, in fact, one of the founders of the Bank of India.

“Some of you were by the side of Mahatma Gandhi during our freedom struggle. In 1916, one of the lawyers in the team defending one of our major nationalist leaders, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was a Jew, David Erulkar,” he said.

Some contributed as educators and some as medical doctors, like Dr. Jerusha Jhirad, who was awarded one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri, Jaishankar said.

“Some of you served as administrators and some distinguished themselves in our judiciary, such as David Reuben who served as the Chief Justice of one of our High Courts. There were three among you who became Mayors of Bombay.

“And there were another three who are remembered for their military service; Vice Admiral J R Samson, Maj Gen B A Samson, and Lt Gen J F R Jacob whose uniform hangs at the Latrun Museum here,” he said.

Jaishankar went on to highlight the community’s contributions in enriching India’s literature and arts with the likes of Nissim Ezekiel who was honored with the Sahitya Akademi award.

“People of my generation grew up in India waking up to the signature tune of All India Radio that had been composed by a Jewish exile in India, Walter Kauffman. And how can you be in India and remain untouched by Bollywood and cricket! You have been part of our film industry and one of you, Judah Reuben, officiated as cricket umpire in many of India’s test matches,” he reminisced.

The continuity of age-old Indian practices by the Jewish community received particular appreciation from the minister, which he saw as creating “the organic bond between our two peoples”.

“What is equally important and interesting is that not only have you, again inevitably, carried some flavors of India with you here, but also that you have retained, or assimilated in some form, some Indian traditions in a manner that is unique to you,” Jaishankar said.

In culinary, he mentioned the ‘Malida thali’ made by the Bene Israelis (Indian Jews from the Maharashtra region). He spoke on the influence of the ‘Mangalsutra’ and ‘Mehendi’, the practice of ‘Baat Pukka’ for formalizing marriages among Baghdadi Jews and symbolic adorning of the Torah arks with jasmine garlands and the use of ‘Manara’ by the Cochini Jews as some such examples.

During his visit here, the minister would call on President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He will also be holding talks with leading academics from all over Israel, business community leaders, and interacting with the Indian Jewish community.

Jaishankar will also be visiting places of historical significance to India, demonstrating its long-term presence in the region and constructive role played in shaping the history of the region.

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