Naresh Fernandes, editor of “Time Out Mumbai,” writing in The New Republic: “We’ve Never Felt Scared.”
Jews have lived in India for thousands of years, perhaps arriving on a mission from the court of King Solomon to trade in "elephant's tooth, peacocks and apes". . . .
India's ancient Jewish history, evidence of the country's tolerance for people of all faiths, has long been a source of pride for us. But an even greater cause for satisfaction has been the fact that Indian Jews have never faced persecution. To the contrary, Indian Jews have flourished, and nowhere is that more evident than in Mumbai. Some of the city's best-known landmarks, including Flora Fountain, the hub of the city's Fort business district, have been built with donations from Jewish philanthropists who grew prosperous on trade and manufacturing. Most notable among them were the Sasoons, a family from Iraq. Their name is etched in plaques in at least four schools, a magnificent library, a dockyard, and at least two of the city's nine synagogues.
A more chilling reminder of the city's role as a sanctuary for Jews is to be found on another set of marble tablets, in a cemetery in Chinchpokli, in Central Mumbai: One wall bears memorials to people who died in faraway concentration camps such as Auschwitz; it was donated by friends and relatives who found refuge here. Many of these exiles had arrived in India because of the intervention of the man who would go on to become India's first prime minister. "Few people can withhold their deep sympathy from the Jews for the long centuries of most terrible oppression to which they have been subjected all over Europe," Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, as he lobbied the British government to allow Eastern European Jews into India. . . .
[T]he Jewish community that has left the deepest impression on the city are the Bene Israelis, who believe their ancestors were shipwrecked just south of Mumbai in 175 B.C.E. . . . The Bene Israeli community has produced a mayor, a musician who led an early rock band, a clutch of Bollywood actors, and a member of the central bank board of governors. Perhaps the best-known member of the community was Nissim Ezekiel, one of the pioneers of Indian poetry in English. My favorite of his poems is "Island," a tribute to my home city. The first stanza says, "Unsuitable for song as well as sense/ the island flowers into slums/ and skyscrapers, reflecting/ precisely the growth of my mind./ I am here to find my way in it."
Though there were approximately 25,000 Indian Jews at Independence in 1947, the community numbered only 5,271 people in 1991, the last year for which figures are available, as members sought better prospects in Israel. . . . India established diplomatic relations with Israel only in 1992, but since then, the two countries have got along like a house on fire, and have a roaring trade in defense supplies. Many Indians of a certain bent of mind admire Jersualem for the tough action it takes against terrorists, and letters to the editor in Indian newspaper frequently exhort New Delhi to learn its lessons from Israel.
There's another aspect to the relationship that goes unnoticed by most Indians. Each year, an estimated 20,000 Israelis take their vacations in India after finishing their three-year compulsory military service stints. Their 15,000-shekel bonuses go much further in India and, as one Israeli told me recently, "It's nice to be in a place where you don't always have to watch your back." . . .
The Mumbai Chabad House has been so low key, few Mumbai Jews even knew of its existence until the attacks on Wednesday. Mumbai's Jewish community doesn't have much to do with the Israeli visitors and often complain that despite the large number of visitors from the Promised Land in town each week, the city's nine synagogues are often hard-pressed on the Sabbath to find a minyan . . . . Besides, the ultra-orthodox leanings of the Lubavitchers have been regarded with some suspicion by liberal Indian Jews.
That divide disappeared on Wednesday night.