The Consul General of India sponsored a post-Chanukah program and dinner on Dec. 16, to celebrate and illuminate the positivity between the two nations.
Located on Glenridge Drive in Sandy Springs, the Consulate hosted a cordial local Jewish crowd including Israel’s Consulate General to the Southeast, Anat Sultan-Dadon, and Dov Wilker, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, and a variety of other diplomats.
India’s Consul General Shri Ranush Babu Laksmanan welcomed the crowd with “Hag Hannukah Sameach,” and spoke of the small but vibrant Jewish community in India consisting of mostly businesspeople “who are happy in India.” He extended warm greetings to Jewish friends with the hopes soon of peace and light, “since we have had good relations over two millennia, as Jews in India identify as Jews and also are immersed in Indian culture.”
A particularly enlightening program highlight were comments by Nissim Reuben, a Jew “of color” who was raised in Ahmebabad, India, who led Chanukah blessings, songs, and prayers in Hebrew and his native accent from an Indian maksor (prayer book.). Fluent in five languages, Reuben grew up in the famous Bene Israel Congregation and left for the U.S. at age 32, and now resides in Washington, D.C. as the assistant director, Asia Pacific Institute, for the AJC.
As he spoke from the heart, Reuben explained that there was no antisemitism growing up in India. He said, “There are only around 5,000 Jews left in India; and Muslim children attend the schools that were once for Jewish children. Muslims are trusted to care for our synagogues; and never has a stone been thrown.”
He said the good relations continue as India and Israel share an airport terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Historically speaking, he revealed a Jewish general was credited for liberating Bangladesh by cutting off Pakistani aggressors without using weapons or swords. According to Reuben, “What he did have was the Shema prayer.”
And basically, Jews are embedded in Indian society, while Prime Minister Modi visited Israel. He said, “Israel is in our hearts, but India is in our blood!”
Comparing the 15-year anniversary of the Mumbai Massacre to Oct. 7, Reuben said he would stop short of discussing politics and ended with a rousing Namaste (I bow to you) and G-d Bless India!”
Later, he shared with the AJT that about 85,000 Indians have immigrated to Israel, and an additional 30,000 have temporary visas working as caregivers. Also, next to the U.S., India is Israel’s second strongest trade partner.
Consulate General Sultan-Dadon came to the podium to state that it was beautiful being among friends “celebrating light in dark times.” She was firm that Israel will be victorious against all odds as it faces yet another evil.
She said, “We must be free from Hamas, who on Oct. 7 declared a goal of our destruction. We did not choose this war. Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself. Oct 7 should have been a worldwide call, and it’s astonishing that there is not full clarity to some — too few are standing up against antisemitism.”
She praised the 30 years of diplomatic relations with India, whose prime minister did condemn the Oct 7 attacks. She said, “This [terror] is a threat to the entire free world, not just Israel. We will win this war, and all who stand for life and freedom will prevail over evil!”
AJC’s Wilker praised the Indian consulate for this night’s demonstration of solidarity “for the courage to bring together the Jewish and non-Jewish communities as others turn away.” He explained the importance at the local level to work for this solidarity. He re-quoted former Israel Prime Minster Naftali Bennett, saying that “India and Israel as an alliance constitute 20 percent of the world’s population.” Earlier, Reuben referred to Wilker as “the dean of the AJC.”
Guests relocated to the lower level where a bounteous traditional vegetarian Indian buffet was served. Various members of the Jewish community mingled and spoke of their relationships with peers and fellow committee workers through the AJC.
Sari Earl, former Delta Air Lines attorney and executive with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, stated, “It’s important that we support our brothers and sisters and show up for each other in both good and bad times.”