One house in the hills of Ramot in Northwest Jerusalem stands out from others. On its lawn, the Indian tricolor takes its place alongside the blue and white flag of Israel. Inside the house lives a portly, friendly, Marathi Jew named Noah Massil and his wife Sybia.
Now 65, the one time Mumbai electrician, and long time president of the Central Organization of Indian Jews, immigrated to Israel in 1970. Most of the Maharashtra-rooted Bene Israel community, to which Massil belongs, came here on the heels of Israel’s victorious Six Day War in 1967. They are by far the largest of the three Indian émigré groups that together number around 75,000. Jews from Cochin and the Baghdadis from Calcutta mainly, are the other two. There are perhaps 30,000 Bene Israel, but estimates vary. Some put the figure much higher.
In a country where immigrants often cut ties definitively to their native lands, Massil and his wife, like many in his community, return every year to visit old friends, places from their youth. In one of his poems for his Marathi quarterly magazine, Mai Boli (My Mother Tongue), Massil writes: “I want to be happy,/but my heart is not happy./ Why?/ I remember India./ Here, nothing is missing,/but always I remember you, India.”
“We publish seasonal stories, first person stories, poems about India and about Israel,” he says.
Massil himself is the author of two books of Marathi poetry, Kawya Nad (1970) andMazi Mai Marathi (2002). Though its subscriber base, at just over 500, is modest, it was praised by Madhav Gadkari, the late editor of the Marathi daily, Loksatta, as “a bridge between Israel and all Marathi speakers,” deserving “to be saluted for their contribution in strengthening bonds between India, Israel and abroad.”
There are no Marathi classes in Israel, even in places like Ashdod, where the Bene Israel community is strong. The young are too busy assimilating. The job of preserving the Marathi language and culture is left to the old.
But Massil isn’t complaining.
Read the full article in Little India: Keeping Marathi Alive in Jerusalem
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