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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just left India after a six-day official visit during which the two countries heralded a "new era" in ties. BBC Hindi's Zubair Ahmed travelled to Beersheba in Israel to meet a community of Indian-origin Jews who migrated there soon after the nation's creation.

Naor Gudekar is 61-years-old, but he is still a fighting fit cricketer. He is also the administrator of Israel's first cricket club, which was founded by immigrant Indians like him 65 years ago in the desert city of Beersheba.

Mr Gudekar is overseeing a practice session for the club team when we arrive at the grounds in what is a decidedly nicer part of the town.

Around 20 people of varying ages are gathered there, some playing cricket while others are there just to socialise. All of them are Bene Israelis - Jews of Indian origin.

The ancient Israeli city of Beersheba is home to thousands of Bene Israelis who migrated to the "promised land" soon after the state was created in 1948.

Mr Gudekar himself is now part of a growing clan. Some of them followed him from India, while others were born in Israel.

'Return to the promised land'

Most of the Bene Israeli population - thought to number around 80,000 - came from the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

A few who migrated in the 50s and 60s recall that before leaving India they were readied for their "return to the promised land" by being taught Hebrew and a few basic Jewish prayers.

But for many families, the migration did not go as smoothly as hoped.

Mr Gudekar says that like many others of his community, his family were discriminated against because of their darker skin colour and because they could not speak fluent Hebrew.

They were allotted an inferior home, built of asbestos, and tin. Mr Gudekar says his father often regretted leaving their life in India.

But, he says, going back was not an option as they had burned all their bridges with Mumbai.

Dr Shalva Weil, who wrote a thesis on Bene Israelis and spent a lot of time with the community, said many of them had chosen to leave India as they were unsure how they would be treated in the newly independent state.

"Once India got independence I think Jews were anxious about their future. Don't forget Bene Israel received favours from the British. I think many of them were quite worried and, after all, they had always believed that Israel was their true Jewish home land."

But she agreed that the community faced discrimination as soon as they arrived in the country.

"I don't think people had seen Indians in the 1950s. They were the darkest group in Israel which seems extraordinary today," she said.

She said she spoke to people who alleged grocery shop owners would give them black bread, telling them that it was for black people.

"Of course it's very ironic, because today black bread is more in demand than white bread," she added.

But the biggest crisis faced by the community was in 1962 when the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities.

Dr Weil said the community was up in arms. "They used to conduct sit-in strikes outside the chief rabbinate's office saying they were Jews for more than 2,000 years and had the right to marry who they wanted."

It took two years, but they finally succeeded in seeing their demands fulfilled.

Many in the community are much happier today, and intermarriage between Jews from various communities is now common.

Mr Gudekar's wife Elena, for instance, is Russian - and he says he has converted her into a cricket fan. His three young daughters are also ardent followers of the game, with one declaring herself an off-spin bowler.

And it's not just about being able to marry whomever they want.

Moshe Holtzberg: The Israeli boy who survived 2008 Mumbai attack
    Netanyahu and Modi praise 'new era' in India -Israel ties
    India and Israel pledge to combat terrorism

Many hold prestigious jobs in the government and private sectors. They also run for local elections and are vocal supporters of Israeli foreign policy. --Cont'd at Column 3


A woman who risked her life during World War

Two by hiding a Jewish friend from the Nazis has been posthumously honored by the UK government.

Dorothea Weber was one of eight Britons awarded the Hero of the Holocaust Medal for acts of courage and self-sacrifice to help Jewish people.

The recipients acted bravely in "the most difficult of circumstances," Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.  Mrs. Weber hid Hedwig Bercu from German forces occupying Jersey.

They survived for 18 months on Mrs Weber's rations, food from Ms Bercu's German lover and fish they caught at night.

British diplomats John Carvell and Sir Thomas Preston, who helped 1,500 Jews escape to Palestine, were also honored at the event on Tuesday.

Medals were awarded to Margaret Reid, Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, Doreen Warriner and Trevor Chadwick for their roles in allowing Jews to emigrate from Germany and occupied Europe.

Otto Schiff, who helped create the Jewish Refugees Committee, was also a recipient.

In 2016, Mrs Weber was posthumously awarded the "Righteous Among the Nations" honour for showing "extraordinary courage" during the holocaust.

Most of the 100-strong Jewish community left the Channel Islands before its German occupation, which lasted five years, but Ms Bercu, remained among a handful of registered Jews.  She went into hiding after being reported for smuggling petrol coupons.

Mrs Weber kept her hidden until the island was liberated by allied forces in May 1945.

Cambridge academic Dr Gilly Carr said the award was fitting as Mrs. Weber had risked her life to shelter her Jewish friend.

"If she had been caught she would have been sent to a concentration camp, as would have Hedwig Bercu, and the chances of either of them surviving that would have been slim."


Cont'd from Column 2

 And while they do not teach their children Hindi, Marathi or any of the Indian languages they grew up speaking, many in Mr Gudekar's generation say they want to keep their link to India alive.

In addition to cricket, which they play in India team jerseys, many of them are avid watchers of Bollywood films, and have even opened Indian food restaurants across the country.

"We are both Israeli and Indian. India is our motherland and Israel our fatherland," he says proudly. But Dr Weil believes that this may not be a feeling that extends to the younger generations of Bene Israelis.

"Bene Israelis feel more and more Israeli. If you look at younger people they act and sound like Israelis. They have little to do with their Indian roots,"  he said.--BBCi


The Museum of Tolerance and the Consulate General of Italy in Los Angeles recently hosted Holocaust Remember Day as the Museum of Tolerance launched its newest initiative: Hope Lives When People Remember.

The special presentation consisted of the story of one young man’s determination to see that a Holocaust Survivor has the Bar Mitzvah he never had.  The presentation was followed by The Honorable Antonio Verde, Consul General of Italy in Los Angeles.

The event  also included a featured screening, “I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal.  Narrated by Nicole Kidman. Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and humanitarian, helped track down over 1,100 Nazi war criminals and spent six decades fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice against all people. He believed “There is no freedom without justice.”


The Polish prime minister has not responded

publicly to Israeli criticism

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has sharply rebuked his Polish counterpart for saying that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust. He said the remarks by Mateusz Morawiecki at the Munich Security Conference were "outrageous."

Mr Netanyahu said they showed "an inability to understand history".

The dispute comes weeks after Israel condemned a new Polish law making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi crimes.

The legislation was signed into law by President Andrzej Duda but also referred to the country's highest court to consider its constitutionality.
What did Mr Morawiecki say in Munich?

He was responding to an Israeli journalist who asked if anyone who said there were Polish collaborators in the Holocaust would be considered a criminal in Poland under the new law.

Mr Morawiecki said: "It's extremely important to first understand that, of course, it's not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators - as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian.... not only German perpetrators."

Mr Morawiecki has not publicly responded to Mr Netanyahu's criticism.

What does the new Polish law state?

It says that "whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years".

But it adds the caveat that a person "is not committing a crime if he or she commits such an act as part of artistic or scientific activities".

New Holocaust law threatens 'whitewash' of Polish history

The Tattooist of Auschwitz - and his secret love

The country has long objected to the use of phrases like "Polish death camps", which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz. The camps were built and operated by Nazi Germany after it invaded Poland in 1939.

But the more contentious point raised by the law is whether it will outlaw references to acts of individual complicity by Poles with the Nazis - something historians say there is clear evidence for.

How did Israel respond?

The Israelis have been furious about the legislation, which Mr Netanyahu has described as an attempt to rewrite history and deny the Holocaust.

Deputies from across Israel's often fractious political spectrum have united to denounce it.

Following the passage of the law in the Senate, Israel's Foreign Ministry asked to postpone the visit of a senior Polish official.

Now, Israeli MPs are backing a bill that would expand Israel's existing Holocaust denial laws to include a five-year jail sentence for anyone denying or minimizing the role of Nazi collaborators, including Poles, in crimes committed in the Holocaust.

The amended law would also give legal aid to any Holocaust survivor telling their story who is prosecuted in a foreign country.

The US state department had also urged the Polish government to rethink its new law.

What happened in World War Two?

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany. Millions of its citizens were killed, including three million Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust overall.More Poles have been honored by Israel for saving the lives of Jews during the war than any other nation. However, historians say others were complicit by acts such as informing on Jews in hiding for rewards, and participating in Nazi-instigated massacres including in Jedwabne where hundreds of Jews were murdered by their neighbors.

A historian and well-known "Nazi-hunter" at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, says the number of collaborators runs into "many thousands." -- BBCi

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