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The Bene Israel ("Sons of Israel") are a historic community of Jews in India, believed to have been one of the Lost Tribes and descendants of ancestors who had settled there centuries ago. In the 19th century, after being taught about normative Judaism, they tended to migrate from villages in the Konkan area to the nearby cities, primarily Mumbai, but also to Pune, and Ahmedabad. They gained positions with the British colonial authority.
In the early part of the twentieth century, many Bene Israel became active in the new film industry, as actresses and actors, producers and directors. After India gained its independence in 1947 and Israel was established in 1948, many Bene Israel emigrated to Israel. They found assimilation difficult, and some returned to India, but today most live in Israel.
According to Bene Israel tradition, their ancestors had migrated to India after centuries of travel through western Asia from Israel and gradually assimilated to the people around them, while keeping some Jewish customs. In the 18th century, a Jew named David Rahabi discovered the Bene Israel in their villages and recognized their vestigial Jewish customs. Some historians have thought their ancestors must have belonged to one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, but the Bene Israel have never been officially recognized as such. Rahabi taught the people about normative Judaism, and trained certain young men among them to be the religious preceptors of the community. Known as Kajis, the position of these men became hereditary, like the Cohanim. They were recognized as judges and settlers of disputes.
Bene Israel tradition places Rahabi's arrival at around 1000 or 1400, but historians believe he arrived in the 18th century. Historians think the "David Rahabi" of Bene Israel folklore is a man named David Ezekiel Rahabi, who lived from 1694 to 1772, and resided in Cochin, then the center of the wealthy Malabar Jewish community.
It is estimated that there were 6,000 Bene Israel in the 1830s; 10,000 at the turn of the 20th century; and in 1948—their peak in India—they numbered 20,000.
Under British colonial rule, many Bene Israel rose to prominence in India. They were less affected than other Indians by the colonial racially-discriminatory policies. They gained higher, better paying posts in the British Army when compared with their non-Jewish neighbours.
In the early twentieth century, Bene Israel became leaders in the new film industry - traditional Indian women would not appear in film, and several prominent actresses of the era were Bene Israel, including Ruby Myers ('Sulochana), the highest-paid actress of the time. In addition, men worked as producers: Ezra Mir (alias Edwin Myers) (1903-1993) became the first chief of India's Film Division, and Solomon Moses was head of the Bombay Film Lab Pvt Ltd from the 1940s to 1990s.
Given their success under the British colonial government, many Bene Israel prepared to leave India at independence in 1947, as it appeared that nationalism and emphasis on indigenous religions would mean fewer opportunities for them. Most emigrated to Israel, which was newly established as a Jewish homeland.
Life in Israel 
Between 1948 and 1952, some 2,300 Bene Israel immigrated to Israel. They suffered from discrimination in employment, and several rabbis refused to marry Bene Israel to other Jews, on grounds that they were not legitimate Jews. As a result of sit-down protests and hunger strikes, the Jewish Agency returned 337 individuals in several groups to India between 1952 and 1954. Most returned to Israel after several years.
In 1962, the Indian press reported that European-Jewish authorities in Israel had treated the Bene Israel with racism. They objected to the Chief Rabbi of Israel ruling that, before registering a marriage between Indian Jews and Jews not belonging to that community, the registering rabbi should investigate the lineage of the Indian applicant for possible non-Jewish descent. In case of doubt, they should require the applicant to perform conversion or immersion. The alleged discrimination may be related to the fact that some religious authorities believe that the Bene Israel were not fully Jewish because of having had intermarriage during their long separation from major communities of Jews. Others thought that was a convenient cover for racially based bias against Jews who were not Ashkenazy or Sephardim. Between 1962 and 1964, the Bene Israel community staged protests, and in 1964 the Israeli Rabbinate declared that the Bene Israel are "full Jews in every respect". Following this declaration, a new wave of Bene Israel immigrated to Israel from India.
Between 1948 and 1969, a total of 12,000 Bene Israel immigrated from India to Israel. They settled mainly in Beersheba, but also in Ashdod, Dimona, and Eilat. Some also settled in kibbutzim and moshavim. They were mainly absorbed into the branches of industry that they occupied in India, such as textiles and metals, as well as into public services.
The Report of the High Level Commission on the Indian Diaspora reviewed life in Israel for the Bene Israel community. It noted that the city of Beersheba in Southern Israel has the largest community of Bene Israel, with a sizable one in Ramla. Generally the Bene Israel have not been politically active and have had modest means. They have not formed continuing economic connections to India and have limited political status in Israel.
Notable Bene Israel 
- Nissim Ezekiel, poet
- David Abraham Cheulkar (1908-1982), actor in India better known as David, he starred in Boot Polish (1954) and sang "Nanhe Munne Bachche."
- Patience Cooper (1905-1983), actress in India who played the first double role of Indian cinema in Patni Pratap (1923).
- Ezra Mir alias Edwin Myers (1903-1993), producer, the first chief of India's Film Division, called the Information Films of India under British rule; noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as "the producer of the largest number of documentaries and short films."
- Ruby Myers (1907-1983), actress better known as Sulochana (senior), she was one of the highest-paid Indian actresses in the 1920s.
- Susan Solomon (known as Firoza Begum), actress in India in the 1920s and 1930s
See also 
- "David Ezekiel Rahabi (Jewish-Indian leader)". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica.com. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- "Bene Israel". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- Weil, Shalva. "The Bene Israel of India". The Database of Jewish Communities. Archived from the original on 7 January 2008.
- Menon, Harish C. (14 December 2005). "Jews, the lost tribe of Indian Cinema". IndiaGlitz.
- Roland, Joan G. (1989). Jews in British India: Identity in a Colonial Era. Hanover: University Press of New England. pp. 34–35.
- Abramov, S. Zalman (1976). Perpetual dilemma: Jewish religion in the Jewish State. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 277–278.
- Smooha, Sammy (1978). Israel: Pluralism and Conflict. University of California Press. pp. 400–401.
- "How Do the Issues in the Conversion Controversy Relate to Israel?". Jcpa.org. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
- "Report of the High Level Commission on the Indian Diaspora". Indian Diaspora.
Further reading 
- Esther, David. The Book of Esther, 'Penguin Global, 2003
- Isenberg, Shirley Berry. India's Bene Israel: A Comprehensive Inquiry and Sourcebook, Berkeley: Judah L. Magnes Museum, 1988
- Mahadevan, Meera Jacob. Shulamith (1975)
- Parfitt, Tudor (1987) The Thirteenth Gate : Travels among the Lost Tribes of Israel, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
- Shepard, Sadia. The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home, Penguin Press, 2008
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Bene Israel|
- Joseph Jacobs and Joseph Ezekiel, Beni-Israel, Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906)
- Shalva Weil, "The Bene Israel of India", The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora at Tel Aviv University.
- "Interview with Sadia Shepard", Voices on Antisemitism, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 4 June 2009
- Jews in India: Bene Israel
- "Bene Israel", Photo Gallery & Forum, Jews of India
- Adil Najam, "Jews in Pakistan", The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, September 2005.
- "The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people", Nature 466, 238-242 (8 July 2010)
- The Indian Jewish community and synagogues in Israel, India Jews
- "Yonati Ziv Yifatech", Bene Israel wedding hymn
- The Satamker Family Website