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Fostering Jewish-Indian relations – one kosher samosa at a time

October 19, 2009 – 10:52 am16 Comments
Of course, some people are members of both the Jewish community and the Indian community. Source: Forward.com

Of course, some people are members of both the Jewish community and the Indian community. Source: Forward.com

By Anthony Frosh

Many months ago, perhaps last summer, I was walking down an East St Kilda street with RachSD, and in front of us were two young men who appeared to be from the Indian subcontinent. They were having a conversation on which I was desperately trying to eavesdrop.

“So, where did they live before that?”

“They were basically like us; they just lived in communities around the world.”

Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with any more verbatim quotes.   Firstly, it was long time ago, and memory fades.  Also, it was hard to hear them.  They spoke quietly, there was traffic noise, and most damagingly, RachSD unfortunately did not pick up that I was attempting to eavesdrop on the people walking in front of us (whose fascinating conversation she was oblivious to), and thus she kept trying to engage me in whatever it was she was talking about.

These young men seemed to be talking about the peculiar Jewish people with whom they now found themselves sharing a neighbourhood. From the bits and pieces I heard, there were at least a few inaccuracies in their understanding of who these Jewish people were, and where they came from.  Part of me wanted to interrupt these young men and say, “Hey, I’m a Jew, allow me to be of assistance with your questions.”

If truth be known, I did do something like this once.  Nearly a decade ago in a library in Ichinomiya, Japan (a town of over 300,000, where most likely I was the only Jewish resident), I saw an old Japanese man with a large stack of books on the desk in front of him, all the books about Jews. “Sumimasen…” I interrupted him. Unfortunately, due to the linguistic barrier, and perhaps the old man’s shyness, I was not able to be of much assistance with whatever it was he was researching.  From my limited Japanese, he seemed more interested in asking if I was married… perhaps he had a shidduch in mind.  Anyway, back to the topic…

The Indian community in Australia has been growing steadily for some time now.  If one walks down Carlisle St in Balaclava, it is fairly evident that after Jews, the next largest ethnic minority in the neighbourhood are Indians.  Our community leaders need to be reaching out to the leaders of the Indian community, in order to establish what ought to be a natural alliance.  We have plenty to offer them, and they have plenty to offer us in return.

Firstly, there’s the CSG.  Anyone who takes the slightest interest in the news would be aware that the Indian community has recently experienced violent, racist, unprovoked attacks.  Our own CSG could liaise with suitable people from the Indian community, train them, and help them to establish their own CSG.

Secondly, there’s the restaurant business.  It’s no secret that kosher restaurants have a longevity problem.  Meanwhile, Indian restaurants are proliferating everywhere, and even those whose kashrut observance prevents them from setting foot in these establishments would have to admit that they smell great from the outside.  Yet, as successful as these Indian restaurants appear to be, the proprietors are not without their own problems.

As most people would know, Hindus are forbidden from eating beef.  But if you peruse the menus of a random assortment of Indian restaurants, you will find that most of them have beef on their menu.  “How can this be?” you might ask.  Well, as one Indian restaurateur explained it to me: when he initially opened his restaurant in Prahran, he did not offer beef.  However, he found he could not attract  the Aussie consumer without having beef on his menu.  “They kept asking, ‘where’s the beef?’”  And thus with much conflict in his heart, he introduced beef to his restaurant’s menu, believing he would be financially ruined if he did not. According to this restaurateur — who for obvious reasons did not want to be named — he would cause enormous shame and disgrace to his family back home if they found out about the beef.

The answer, of course, is the kosher beefless Indian restaurant.  Indian restaurateurs agree to make delicious kosher Indian food for the Jewish community, and we agree to eat it without pressuring them to offer us the sacred cow.

I could go on about other synergies, but let’s hear what the readers have to say!

This article has now also been published at AussieIndoLanka

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