Hong Kong: ‘Asian Jewish Life,’ spring issue online

On my recent Hong Kong visit, I met with editor-in-chief Erica Lyons of “Asian Jewish Life: A Journal of Spirit, Society and Culture.”

The new AJL spring 2010 issue is now online with stories covering India, Shanghai, Cambodia, foodies, book reviews, film and more.

“Asian Jewish Life is a contemporary journal of Jewish diaspora life throughout Asia. As Jews in Asia we are but a tiny minority unified by tradition, a love for Israel, common contemporary concerns and shared values. While Asian Jewish Life is a common media forum designed to share regional Jewish thoughts, ideas and culture and promote unity, it also celebrates our individuality and our diverse backgrounds and customs.”

Here’s the table of contents (read each online or download the PDF at the link above):

— Inbox: Your letters
— Letter from the Editor
— India Journal- Life with the Bene Ephraim (Bonita Nathan Sussman and Gerald Sussman)
— Eating Kosher Dog Meat: Jewish in Guiyang (Susan Blumberg-Kason)
— Through the Eyes of ZAKA (Jana Daniels)
— Interview: Ambassador Yaron Mayer

— Replanting Roots in Shanghai: Architect Haim Dotan’s journey (Erica Lyons)
— A Palate Grows in Brooklyn: Birth of a foodie (Sandi Butchkiss)
— Poetry by Rachel DeWoskin
— The Death Penalty: What Asia can learn from Judaism (Michael H. Fox)
— Learning to Speak: A cross-cultural love story (Tracy Slater)
— Book Reviews (Susan Blumberg-Kason)
— Places I Love
— Expat Diary: Raising a Jewish Child in Cambodia (Craig Gerard)
— Film in Focus

Each article provides a diverse look into life in Asia, with a Jewish “hook.” Tracing the Tribe will always remember the line “tenderloin of my heart,” from Tracy Slater’s “Learning to Speak.”

Readers and writers with Jewish Asian experiences are invited to submit articles; click here for more information.

If you enjoyed this issue (the winter issue is also online), let Erica know, and tell her you learned about AJL at Tracing the Tribe. Feedback is always welcome.

A great issue, Erica!


Library of Congress: Indian, Israeli book talk, March 31

“Being Indian, Being Israeli: Migration, Ethnicity and Gender in the Jewish Homeland” is the title of a book talk by Maina Chawla Singh on Wednesday, March 31.

The event begins at noon in the Asian Reading Room Foyer in the Jefferson Building.

In contemporary Israel, the bulk of Indian Jews live in Israeli periphery, where they were settled by the state from the 1950s to early 1970s.

For the first time, this book presents a deeply researched analysis of three Jewish communities from India, studying them holistically as Indian-Israelis with shared histories of migration, acculturation and identity in the Jewish Homeland.

Based on fieldwork and ethnographic research conducted 2005-2008 among Indian Jews across Israel, the book reflects the authors deep engagement and familiarity with Israeli society and the complexities of ethnicity and class that underlie the cleavages within Israeli Jewish society.

Maina Chawla Singh is Associate Professor, University of Delhi. From 2005-2008, she researched and lectured at Bar Ilan, Haifa and Tel Aviv universities. In 2008, she was Scholar-in-Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and, in 2009, was a Fellow at Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Brandeis University. Currently, she is Scholar-in-Residence at American University, Washington DC.

The talk is sponsored by the LOC’s Asian Division, the Asian Division Friends Society and the Embassy of India.

For more information, send an email.

Hong Kong: Markets, magazines and more

Erica Lyons – who has been here for some seven years with her family – and I went to an old temple – I love the smell of incense – and a walk through the market.

We later met some of our dining companions from the other night for a fabulous vegetarian dim sum lunch.

Erica, a lawyer by training, is editor-in-chief and publisher of the new Asian Jewish Life: A Journal of Spirit, Society and Culture.

The now-quarterly free publication – hopefully to become more frequent – focuses on the Jewish experience in Asia. It is handed out on El Al flights from Asia in business and first. It is also online.

She gave me a copy of the 40-page premier issue which features an excellent group of articles by some very interesting writers, covering artists, book reviews, personal stories and much more. Read it online at the link above.

Erica (photo right) is also on the board of the Hong Kong Jewish Historical Society, and shared some information about the century-old Jewish cemetery, which I hope to visit Friday morning.

I have discussed the possibility of forming a Jewish genealogical society here under the auspices of the historical society. I hope to meet more of the historical society members when I return through HK from Australia towards the end of March.

Sephardim: Museum of Family History exhibits

The virtual Museum of Family History also has material for researchers of Sephardim.

Holocaust Memorials in Havana and Santa Clara, Cuba

Synagogues of Asia: Burma, China, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Singapore, Tajikistan, Turkey [Asian side].

Synagogues of Turkey: (European side of Istanbul)

Synagogues of Spain. The photo at left is the El Transito Synagogue in Toledo.

— Postcards from Home: Turkey

Museum creator Steve Lasky wishes to include more pre-war family photos. Readers with such photos are invited to contact Steve.

India: Lucknow Pathans DNA project

A new DNA project will research the roots of Jews and Pathans in India.

While it is generally believed that the Pathans are descended from Jews who converted to Islam centuries ago, and there many writings support this, a DNA research project might answer more questions.

The story appeared in the Times of India.

The Pathans, of course, are mainly in Afghanistan and DNA projects there are currently a far-fetched idea. However, there are Pathans in Lucknow, India, and that group will be tested.

Heading the project is an Indian geneticist Shahnaz Ali, who will study the genetic link between the Afridi Pathans in Malihabad near Lucknow and the Jews, who migrated all over Asia.

Ali is based in Haifa at the prestigious Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), the recipient of an Israeli foreign ministry scholarship.

According to Dr. Navras Aafreedi, an Indo-Judaic studies researcher (see below for many more links on his writings), Shahnaz’s research would be important if she can establish a genetic link between the Pathans and Jews. It is a traditional belief about the Pathans’ origins and “can have interesting ramifications for Muslim-Jewish relations.

The belief was very strong decades ago in the Pathans of Afghanistan and even Emir Abdul Rahman, the former Afghan Shah Amanullah’s grandfather, stated in his “History of the Afghans” that the Afghans were of Jewish descent.

Elders of the Afridi Pathans, who call themselves Bani Israel (Children of Israel), recalled many Jewish rituals and customs among the Afridi Pathans, e.g., the lighting of candles on Shabbat, long side locks, shawls resembling tallit, circumcision on the eighth day after birth, and Levirate marriage. Today, of course, it is dangerous and not politically correct to talk about these customs.

Other tribes include Yusufzai tribe (sons of Joseph), Rabbani (sons of Reuben), Levani (sons of Levi), Ashuri (sons of Asher), and others.

Afghani Jews often reported that they had close relationships with members of these tribes who shared their customs and traditions.

Persian writers refer to this history, as the Afghani Jews were of Persian origin, and long ago the borders were open, all part of the same territory. British travelers and officers also wrote about this tradition.

The newspaper article noted that Pathans are believed to be descendants of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the 10 tribes of Israel’s northern kingdom exiled by the Assyrians in 721 BCE. Descendants of these lost tribes are supposed to have settled in India between 1202-1761 CE, among them those in Malihabad.

Afghanistan’s Pashtun fighters, from where the Taliban draw their strength, are Afridi Pathan descendants.

The Lucknow district was selected because it is the only safe and accessible group today. There is another group at Qayamganj in Farrukhabad – both refer to themselves as Bani Israel. Two more such clans live in aligarh and Sambhal in Moradabad.

In 2006, Aafreedi spoke about his own origins, when he was conducting research at Tel Aviv University, in a Jerusalem Post story:

According to Aafreedi’s study, which was published as an e-book, about 650 out of the 1,500 members of the Afridi Pathan clan in Malihabad, India, may possess genetic material shared by nearly 40 percent of Jews worldwide. If confirmed, the findings would support the clan’s connection to the tribe of Ephraim, Aafreedi said. A related Indian Pathan group numbering some 800 people was not tested for the project.

In that Jerusalem Post story, Michael Freund who today heads Shavei Israel, notes that Persian writers wrote about the tribes’ connections, as well as missionaries who arrived with the British. Even former Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi wrote about it in his book, “The Exile and Redeemed,” he quoted an Afghani Jew as saying, “According to the tradition current among the [Afghan] Afridis, they are indeed descendants of the Israelites, more particularly the sons of Ephraim.”

A fascinating Middle East Facts article (2007) includes this information as it writes about Aafreedi and the Afridi Pathans, lists books, resources and individuals. Another article with more information is here.

Click here to read “Medieval Persian References to the Israelite Origin of the Pashtuns/Pathans,” (2008) which includes much genealogical information in medieval writings over hundreds of years. This will be of interest to Jewish genealogists as it recounts tribal traditions of origins and names names.

Aafreedi’s blog is here, and to learn more about his e-book, click here.

New York: Unique Sephardic programs at the JCC

The Upper West Side Jewish Community Center’s goal is to celebrate the diversity and richness of the Jewish people. The JCC has scheduled some unique programming – lectures, travel, food and music – to discover different facets of Jewish life from January-March 2010.

The JCC is located at 334 Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street, New York City.

The Remarkable Saga of Spanish Jewry

New York University assistant professor/faculty fellow in teh religious studies program, Brigitte Sion was born in Switzerland to Sephardic parents. She will lead a six-session program on the history of Spanish Jewry’s descendants – a history of secrecy, forced conversion, exile, dispersion, and endurance – and examine the contemporary state of the Sephardic community today. Sion will cover how they were received in other countries and how they flourished in diaspora. Also covered: language, literature, traditions and customs, evolution of Sephardic heritage in exile, contemporary phenomenon of “museumization” and Spain’s relationship to its Jewish past.

Six Mondays, from January 25- March 8 (not on February 15). Fee: JCC members, $90; others, $110.

Far From Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community

7pm, Tuesday, February 23. Fee: JCC members, $7; others, $10.

Award-winning writer Charles London speaks about his new book that blends history, geography, politics and personal memoir. His global journey reveals Jewish communities living their faith in inspiring ways. His year-long quest to seek out these communities is both physical and spiritual. Co-sponsored with Be-chol Lashon.

Indian Jewish Purim Celebration
3pm, Sunday, February 28. Fee: JCC members, $25; others, $30.
Join Indian-Jewish Congregation of the USA (IJCUSA) president Romiel Daniel and other members of his community for a Purim celebration. Enjoy ethnic Indian and Israeli dancing with a Bollywood DJ. Dress up as a Purim character or not. Indian cuisine served. Co-sponsored with the IJCUSA).

Celebrating the Turkish Musical Tradition
2pm, Sunday, March 7, Mar 7. Fee: JCC members, $20; others, $25.

Turkish culture is reflected in its rich and diverse musical traditions. Join world-renowned musician Ahmet Erdogdular who will present songs by the 18th century Ottoman Jewish composer Tanburi Izek and interpret the singing style of Izak Algazi, an Ottoman Empire-era Istanbul synagogue cantor. The Jewish-Turkish tradition will be represented by Turkish-American linguist, actress/director and singer Daisy Sadaka Braverman who will sing songs in Ladino/Judeo-Spanish, a language unique to Sephardic Jews, especially those of Greece and Turkey. The afternoon includes Turkish desserts. Co-sponsored by The Turkish Cultural Center.

To register for one or all of these programs, go to the JCC site.

Israel: Persian Gulf Jewish Communities

A conference held by the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies (University of Haifa) now features the presentations via video online.

The international colloquium, titled “The Jewish Communities of the Persian Gulf: New Themes in Their Modern History,” took place May 15, 2006.

Among the speakers:

Conference Welcome

–Dr. Meir Ezri, former Israeli Ambassador to Iran. (Watch, Listen)

— Prof. Amatzia Baram, Department of Middle Eastern History, University of Haifa (Watch, Listen)

Session 1: The Realm of Baghdadi Jewish Entrepreneurs
Chair: Prof. Amalia Levanoni

— Dr. Chiara Betta: Rethinking Baghdadi Jewish Networks in Shanghai Watch, Listen)

— Prof. Gad G. Gilbar: The Sassoons in Iran, Amin al-Zarb in Hong Kong: Some Lessons (Watch, Listen) (NOTE: Tracing the Tribe watched this very interesting presentation of the Sassoon family, whose empire stretched to Hong Kong).

— Questions from the Audience (Watch)

Session 2: Jewish-Muslim Socio-economic Relations in Late Qajar Iran
Chair: Prof. David Yeroushalmi, Tel Aviv University

— Dr. Heidi Walcher: Commercial Relations and Mercantile Networks in 19th Century Isfahan(Watch, Listen)

— Dr. Daniel Tsadik: Shi’i-Jewish Relations in the pre-Constitutional Years: The Shiraz Incident of 1905 (Watch, Listen)

Session 3: Cultural Aspects of Jewish Life: Iran and Iraq
Chair: Dr. Soli Shahvar, University of Haifa

— Prof. Goel Cohen: The Iranian Jewish Press during the Pahlavi Period. This was not recorded.

— Dr. Ronen Zeidel: Once City, Different Views: Baghdad in the Recent Writings of Sami Michael, Sasson Somekh and Salim Fatal (Watch, Listen)

Concluding Remarks

Prof. Amatzia Baram (Watch)

These are interesting topics and perspective not usually addressed elsewhere.