Today, Israel is home to over 80,000 Jews of Indian origin. Unlike most immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, those who made aliyah from the subcontinent didn’t come fleeing persecution and anti-Semitism, but simply to live in the land of their ancestors. Oshrit Birvadker examines their place in contemporary Israel:
Indian Jews in Israel have assimilated into Israeli society, while keeping their own distinct identity. The young generations especially are eager to adopt an Israeli way of life rather than remain distinctive from the rest of their society, as many of their ancestors did. In recent years, the community has placed a special emphasis on preserving Indian Jewish culture and their contribution to the mosaic of Israeli society. This is evident from the growing number of conferences and media coverage about their culture as well as [the construction of] the Cochin Jewish Heritage Museum at Moshav Nevatim.
The burgeoning bilateral relationship between Israel and India today has boosted the confidence of the community, [and especially] the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel in 2017. Modi’s decision to host a rally of Indian Jews in the midst of an intense three-day visit helped inform Israeli society and decision makers of the importance of the community in the eyes of the Indian government.
Since the early 2000s, the government of India has undergone an institutional and conceptual change in which the Indian diaspora has become an important tool in Indian foreign policy. At first, it was the affluent Indians in the West who were courted by the Indian government, but under the rule of the BJP, working-class diaspora communities—such as the Indians in the Gulf countries and in Israel—have become a significant part of the government’s foreign-relations strategy.