Economic Growth Spurs India’s Jews to Stay

About 500 well-wishers gathered recently around Isaac Divekar and Siyona Garsulkar at their wedding.

Divekar, an accountant for a large investment firm, and Garsulkar, a human resources professional, had just married at one of Mumbai?s noted synagogues, Magen Hassidim, built in 1931.

Unlike many young Indian Jewish couples who, in previous years, often left the country in search of greater opportunity and more Jewish life, this young couple will be staying put.

?There are more job opportunities in India now,? said Divekar, citing call centers and outsourcing from the United States. Young Jews ?are staying in India and not emigrating.?

Divekar and his wife epitomize the new India and its revived Jewish community of nearly 5,000, most of which lives in this metropolis of 19 million formerly known as Bombay.

Seeing a bright future in their native land, young Indian Jews increasingly are remaining in India, which has the world?s fastest growing major economy after China. India?s 9 percent growth rate in 2007 was four times that of the United States and nearly twice that of Israel.

Last year only 49 Jews left the community for Israel, down from 291 in 2006 ? though the latter figure included the 229 Bnei Menashe from northeast India, according to Ze?ev Schwartzberg, head of the Ethiopia and India desk of the Jewish Agency for Israel?s aliyah department.

Schwartzberg said 90 Indian Jews left for Israel in 2004 and 143 the previous year. India?s booming economy and the Arab-Israeli conflict are keeping aliyah down, he said.

The Jewish population in India has stabilized, confirmed Elijah Jacob, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee country manager in India, citing a total of 4,480 Jews in India.

Jews have been a part of the Indian mosaic for more than two millennia. The ?land of the Ganges? was known to the Jews of antiquity as well as to those of the Middle Ages. The Talmud contains several references to India.

In 1948, about 30,000 to 40,000 Jews resided in India, but most left for Israel in the following few years. Still, India boasts the largest number of indigenous Jews of any country east of Iran.

With a population of about 1.15 billion, 21st-century India has capitalized on its educated workforce to become a major exporter of high-tech, financial and other services.

Most young Jews are educated in Indian schools where English is the language of instruction and are highly proficient in English and technology. They see their country as a place of opportunity, especially in high-tech jobs and ?call centers which pay extremely well,? according to Antony Korenstein, the Joint?s country director in India.

?Jews are sharing in and riding the economic wave,? Korenstein said.

It was a different story for the previous generation of Jews, most of whom tended to work as family business owners, company directors, lawyers and bank clerks.

The parents ?certainly are not poor, though very few are truly wealthy,? Korenstein said.

With the call centers providing jobs for young adult Jews at night ? when it?s daytime in the United States ? synagogue leaders say it is difficult to attract them to activities. They sleep during the day and are working at night. According to Divekar, Jews are allowed time off from work for Jewish holidays and festivals.

Not only are young Jews staying in India, a few Jewish families have moved backed there from Israel.

Israeli-born Anil Abraham, 31, is now a tour operator in Kochi, where he has relatives. Although he hasn?t made up his mind to stay, Abraham says that ?life is different here compared to Israel,? citing the pressures of security and work in the Middle East.

?I love this place,? he added.

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