Book Review: Dropped from Heaven: Bene Israel Through Sophie Judah’s Eyes

The article found in the May Indian Jewish Congregation of USA newsletter, is adapted from Nextbook.org’s “Out of India” by Amy Rosenberg and Amazon.com book review.

Sophie Judah was born in Jabalpur, a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India. She did not grow up very observant because of her father’s profession – he was in the Army. The family moved around and very often they were the only Jewish family in town. Although her family was not very observant, they did keep kashrut.

While her dad worked on Saturdays and the children went to school, her mother lit the candles and did not sew or knit on Saturday.

The turning point of her involvement with Judaism and Jewish culture was when she was about 10, when she first became conscious of the Holocaust after reading The Diary of Anne Frank. According to Sophie, she felt that a part of her had been taken away, even though she never knew the Jews who were killed, and it was her duty to replace that part. After Anne Frank, she read Exodus, and then started searching for books on Jews and Judaism.

During her search, she found a lot of books about the Jews of Eastern Europe and America, as well as anthropological and historical literature about the Bene Israel. There were no books that documented the Bene Israel community from a more human perspective, which prompted Sophie to start working on her collection of short stories, Dropped from Heaven.

In her book, she describes a mythical village of Jwalanagar, where the Jewish traditions of the Bene Israel have survived for more than two thousand years. In “Hannah and Benjamin,” the parents of a young woman are shocked when she defies their rejection of the man she wishes to marry – but no more shocked than the man himself.

In “Nathoo,” a kindly Jewish soldier and his wife adopt a Hindu boy orphaned in the post-independence violence of 1947 – with disastrous results. In “Dropped from Heaven,” a mother with three unmarried daughters at home and a copy of Pride and Prejudice in her handbag springs into action when she hears that two single brothers are coming to town looking for brides. And in “Old Man Moses,” a lonely and imperious old man is visited by his Israeli grandson and the young man’s girlfriend, and finds that there is still a place in his heart for love.

Sophie immigrated to Israel in 1973, after her marriage. She currently lives in Israel with her husband and five children.

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