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India, Israel and the Jewish People

Several international (primarily American) Jewish organizations, including the Joint, the World Organization for Educational Resources and Technological Training (World ORT), and AJC have a permanent office or a resident representative in Mumbai, where most of the Indian Jewish community lives today. The Joint and World ORT are not newcomers. Their presence in India dates back many decades. The Joint launched its India operation in 1964 and has since developed a broad spectrum of activities, including welfare programs for poor and elderly Indian Jews, as well as educational, cultural, religious and social initiatives.

Many programs supported in India by international Jewish organizations are primarily designed to serve the needs of the small Jewish community. They are aimed at ensuring the continuity of Jewish life in India and empowering the young generation. Still, some programs are not only for Jews, but for other religious groups as well. The Indian branch of World ORT, for instance, offers Jewish education and Jewish-oriented activities, but also many technical training courses (computer, childcare, hairdressing, sewing, etc.) that are also attended by Muslim and Hindu pupils.

Moreover, on numerous occasions international Jewish organizations have provided emergency humanitarian aid to India’s needy populations, whether Jewish or not. In 2001, after the Indian state of Gujarat was devastated by a strong earthquake, the Joint and AJC offered relief assistance to numerous villages, including for rebuilding damaged Hindu and Muslim schools. International Jewish organizations also supplied relief funds and support after the 2004 tsunami. At the time, AJC reached out to Indian and other South Asian religious and ethnic organizations across the United States to help raise relief funds. In addition, several international Jewish organizations participate in longer-term development programs for India’s most vulnerable and poor communities. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) supports about 50 development programs in India alone, in fields ranging from women’s empowerment and tribal self-governance to sustainable agriculture and food security.

The significance of civil society development work in India by Jewish NGOs should not be ignored. Beyond following the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (“mending the world”) this work contributes to building bridges with the country’s non-Jewish communities. Furthermore, some development projects in India have been undertaken by Jewish NGOs in cooperation with Israeli experts, NGOs, and governmental organizations. Thus, in 2011 three experts from the Israeli Trauma Coalition participated in a workshop on emergency preparedness organized by the Joint at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital. The Joint has also cooperated regularly with MASHAV, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs agency for international development cooperation. Such initiatives allow India to benefit from Israel’s experience and expertise in emergency and disaster management. This too may strengthen the links between India, Israel, and the Jewish people. Many Jewish and pro-Israel NGOs have also been actively providing information on Israel, the Middle East, and Jewish issues to Indians. The Washington D.C.-based The Israel Project (TIP), in particular, had done important and valuable work reaching out to the Indian press, policymakers, and general public. TIP closed its operations in India in 2012.

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