Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 28, 2022

Indian, Jewish communities collaborate

By BEN SCHWARTZ | May 2, 2013

Nissim Reuben, an Indian Jew who is the program director of Indian-Jewish American Relations at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), spoke at Hopkins on Friday evening about his multilayered personal identity and work as an advocate. Sponsored jointly by South Asian Students at Hopkins (SASH) and the Coalition of Hopkins Activists for Israel (CHAI), the event was unique in drawing together the Jewish and Indian communities on campus.

Reubon talked about his work as a proponent of a strong relationship between Israel, India and the United States and among the Jewish American and Indian American communities.

“The goodwill that exists, the bond between the Indian and Jewish communities in America, was an important factor in building this relationship [between India and Israel]. Jewish Americans and Indians on a personal level have good relations in this country. Many of your parents,” he said, speaking to the crowd, “are in the same professions, in medicine, academia.”

Reubon made a point to note that India was one of the thirteen countries to vote against the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Nevertheless, he said, relations have improved steadily over the past several decades, to the point where the two countries now enjoy a warm friendship and a substantial defense and non-defense trade.

India maintains close ties to countries across the Middle East, including Iran, and was one of the first, and continues to be one of the most vocal, supporters of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Surprisingly, Reuben said, Israeli officials are often more understanding of India’s strategic interests than their American counterparts are.

He also talked about his own personal identity as both an Indian and a Jew living in the United States, and at one point showed a video about the Jewish communities of India.

“We like to call ourselves Indian Jews because we have a distinct identity and rich heritage and different culture overall,” Reuben said. “We are traditional, but at the same time we have blended Indian culture into our customs.”

SASH President Aleesha Shaik, and SASH fundraising committee member Kavya Vaghul worked with CHAI Co-Presidents Rebecca Rubenstein and Arie Grunberg to organize the event.

“I think in general our goal for this event was to create more of an alliance or relationship between our group and other groups on campus. We saw that there was a good connection between us and the Indian group, SASH, so we took this opportunity and we said, ‘You know what, we’re going to invite [Reuben] to come, and if they want to cosponsor, we’ll work together and we’ll have a nice event’ and I hope that this becomes a strong relationship [in] the future,” Grunberg said.

Both SASH and CHAI members said that they felt the event did a lot to bring together two undergraduate organizations and two campus communities that knew very little about one another and didn’t seem to have much in common. The talk drew a fairly large crowd of Hopkins students from both communities, with both Jewish and Indian students taking an active role in the question and answer session.

“I think that for me personally, what I was limited to was a couple of Jewish friends who would go to the Shabbat dinners at Hillel every once in a while. I think they spoke of their experiences with the Hillel very positively, but I think that in terms of my personal interaction with [the Jewish community], it’s been really limited and this was a great exposure meeting Arie, meeting Becca, and the process of working with them in planning this event began a path for SASH to not only collaborate with other South Asian groups on campus but collaborate beyond that and really bring in some thoughts and concepts and discussions on important issues and relationships,” Vaghul said.

She also left the door open to future collaboration between the Indian and Jewish communities.

“What I’ve learned is that it’s something that is very mutual on both ends. Both communities really want to reach out to each other, but the opportunity very rarely presents itself in terms of what this campus expects and in terms of what our schedules expect a lot of the time,” Vaghul said. “It’s important to pursue those avenues, and I think that it [was] a very positive experience working with them now, and I hope we can continue in the future to look towards more ideas and presentations and events.”

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