An Indian Etrog case: Jewish Migration around the world

By Josie Roberts, Learning Officer 

To accompany the Sukkot:
Seeking Shelter exhibition
we have an array of exciting events alongside the
wonderful sukkah installed in our Welcome Gallery. To highlight further some of
the important issues surrounding migration, we are going to shed light on a
number of hidden stories of migration in our permanent collection. We will add
a new sign each week next to an object with a hidden story. To share these
stories even further we wanted to add them to our blog. Keep up with the
stories week by week.

Jewish communities can be found all over the world. Many take
on new traditions from the communities they join, as well as share their own
Jewish culture with others.

This Etrog case, used during the festival of Sukkot, is from
India where the first Jewish communities arrived more than 2000 years ago. Many
settled in the southern state of Kerala. Around 600 years later, the community
was joined by the Bene Israel, an ancient community that some suggest were one
of the lost tribes of Israel. Indian Jewry grew further in 1730, as Baghdadi
Jews found refuge in India as the persecution of Jewish people began in the
Middle East.

This fluctuation of migration led to a diverse and ever
adapting community of Jewish people in India. The Jews of India are much assimilated
to Indian culture, often wearing Indian traditional dress, participating in
local festivals and speaking local languages, whilst maintaining their own
traditions. However, after the formation of Israel in 1948 many emigrated;
leaving just 5000 Jewish people in India today, who reside mainly in Mumbai.


The story of the Jews in India has
been, on the whole, a happy one with Jews enjoying security. Today there are 14
synagogues and 2 Jewish schools still functioning. They are now fighting to get recognition as
minorities. The community is growing again as hundreds of Jews from the north
east of India are claiming to be part of a lost biblical Jewish tribe. They
call themselves the Bnei Menashe and say that they are descendants of the Jews
who were banished from ancient Israel to India in the 8th century BC.

Jewish story in India is interwoven with migrations in and out of the country.
It is steeped in a rich, ancient history and surrounded by mystery. The
movement of communities has been forming nations for centuries and continues to
shape countries around the world.

The Sukkot: Seeking Shelter project was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Tell Us What You Think

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *