India's Jews stunned by Mumbai attack
AFP - 1 hour 58 minutes ago
MUMBAI (AFP) - - They are a tiny, scattered and low-profile community of just a few thousand among a population of 1.1 billion, so India's Jews were at a loss to explain why they were targeted in the Mumbai attacks.
The couple who ran Nariman House, home to a Jewish cultural and religious centre that was invaded by militants, were killed by their captors as commandos stormed the building to rescue them.
Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka died along with six other Jews also taken hostage.
The centre offered refuge, prayer and home-cooking to Jewish backpackers and tourists who could enjoy free kosher food at a communal meal served each evening.
Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, said the choice of target was "the clearest sign that the attack was directed against Jews and Israelis."
But many Indian Jews, whose ancestors first arrived in the subcontinent 1,000 years ago, refused to believe that they had been singled out.
"I am 100 percent sure that the militants were not targeting Indian Jews," said Solomon Sopher, chairman of the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, close to the Jewish centre.
"Muslims have never done any harm to us. This barbaric act is not against Jews, but against America, Britain and Israel," Sopher said after Saturday prayers, which was attended by about 15 people.
India is an increasingly popular destination for Israeli tourists, with more than 43,000 visiting each year, many of them young people like those who made use of the hospitality at Nariman House.
But India's permanent community of Jews is under dire threat, with only 5,000 estimated to remain -- down from 30,000 in 1940.
Almost all are Bene Israel Jews who live in the region around Mumbai, where they prospered under British rule in India, when they were granted special privileges.
There are also a handful of "Kochi" Jews in the southern state of Kerala, where the village of Ernakulam is host to a community of just 40 Malabari Jews and seven disused synagogues.
Nearby Mattancheri is Indian Jewry's most famous settlement, attracting thousands of visitors each year to its pretty streets, but recent reports said only 12 Indian Jews remained in residence.
The near collapse of Jewish communities in India comes despite a long history of "remarkably tolerant" attitudes from Hindus, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
It says the prime cause is "aliyah" -- migration to Israel by young people seeking better opportunities.
But some Indian Jews would never contemplate such a move, even after the Nariman House tragedy.
"I don't think in terms of whether I am a Jew or not. I think in terms of being an Indian," said Alcon Silgaonkar.
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