BY VEENA RAO
Atlanta, GA, January 10: The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication, was celebrated in the Indian tradition at the Consulate General of India in Atlanta on December 11. Hosted for the first time by the Consulate in 2014, the celebration has now become an annual tradition.
Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States, Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Congressman Rob Woodall (R-GA), Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, office bearers of the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and members of Atlanta Indian-American community associations were part of the celebrations.
“Not many people know that Judaism has been an integral part of Indian society for over 2000 years,” Consul General Nagesh Singh informed the gathering. “Jewish traders may have come toIndiaduring King Solomon’s time. But recorded history shows that Judaism came to the southern coast of India around 79 AD, after the destruction of the second temple. During the middle ages, when Jews were persecuted elsewhere in the world, Judaism flourished in India.”
Singh said Hanukkah is a festival that is important to India, the Indian-American community and the Consulate General of India. Relations between the US, India and Israel are based on the shared values of democracy and freedom, and common strategic and geopolitical interests, he added.
“But it is people to people contact that is the better part of our relationship,” he said.
Consul General of Israel Judith Varnai Shorer talked about the history and significance of Hanukkah. “It is very much like Diwali, the festival of lights,” she said. “This holiday represents the fight for our existence. It is a celebration of Jewish heroism. We are a small but very determined people who try our best to bring progress and fight darkness. When we light the hanukkiah (candelabra) we are illuminating an entire room with light and hope.”
Shorer said India has an ever growing relationship withIsrael, and spoke of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s successful visit to India in November 2015. “We look forward to what the future holds for our two countries as we continue to work together. I cannot express how much your support means to us,” she said.
Nissim Reuben, an Indian-American of Jewish descent and Assistant Director (Asia Pacific Institute) at AJC led the lighting of the hanukkiah and sang Hebrew songs in the Indian tradition. He said India is the only country in the world where Jews have never faced antisemitism in 2000 years. “In the 60 years since the middle-east crisis began, never a stone has been thrown at a synagogue. That shows the resilience of the Indian people,” he said.
Congressman Rob Woodall, in his address, said the two most powerful speeches given in Washington DC in the last session of the Congress were those given on the floor of the house by Prime Minister Modi of India and PM Netanyahu of Israel. What made Modi’s speech resonant was the fact that he talked about the 1.3 billion people who no longer had to be afraid. PM Netanyahu talked about unfailing partnerships between US and Israel in eradicating fear and standing up against the fascists, dictators and bullies.
Woodall said America is built on faith, family, education, opportunity and eradication of fear. “I don’t have any idea what the future holds in politics in DC, but what I don’t have is fear.America doesn’t begin in DC, it begins right here, and tomorrow looks bright for people,” he said.
Georgia Public Service Commissioner, Tim Echols, said King Solomon’s wisdom is something we give attention to everyday. “There is wisdom in counsel. The Indian community, the Jewish community- any folks that want to make our state better, we need to reach out and make sure we are listening and giving people input,” he said.
Sandy Springs mayor Rusty Paul said he was pleased to be part of the celebrations.
CNN journalist and author Josh Levs emceed the proceedings. Dov Wilder of AJC and Ritesh Desai, who referred to himself as an Indian born,America raised honorary Jew, helped organize the event.