The Jewish Starlets of Old Bollywood

March 21 2016

While the prominent role of Jews in the early years of Hollywood is well known, more obscure is the part played by Jews in the founding of “Bollywood,” the Indian film industry. Indian Jews were filmmakers and occasionally actors but, most of all, actresses. Navras Jaat Aafreedi writes:

[O]f all the diverse ethnic and religious groups in the world’s second-most-populous country, these earliest female stars came from a minority within India’s smallest religious minority, the Jews, who constitute no more than 0.0004 per cent of its total population. The Baghdadis (as the Jews who came from a number of Middle Eastern countries . . . came to be called), were one of the three Jewish communities in India; they were [also] among those [ethnic and religious] communities in India who completely Anglicized themselves. . . .

Baghdadi Jewish women, highly Westernized in their lifestyle and outlook, . . . did not have the reservations [about the] performing arts that women from other communities in India—including the other Jewish communities, the Bene Israel and the Cochin Jews—had. By doing so they paved the way for women from respectable families from other communities to follow suit. . . .

The first star of Indian cinema was Sulochana (née Ruby Myers, 1907-83). . . . A hugely popular dance of Sulochana’s from the film Madhuri was added to a short film on Mahatma Gandhi . . . which also happened to be India’s first “talkie.”

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Read more at Asian Jewish Life

More about: Arts & Culture, Film, India, Indian Jewry

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays