Foreword by J. Hodes, Ph.D.
Angelica Jacob’s beautifully written memoir, Finding Home, begins in 1970’s Bombay and continues to 1980’s Australia. It is the story of a young woman’s journey to a new land, but it is also the story of an Indian Jewish community. Angelica is a member of the Bene Israel, Jews who have lived in India for 1,800 years. Since the creation of the state of Israel, the community has gotten increasingly smaller in India. This memoir weaves together what is uniquely Indian and universally Jewish, providing a fascinating account of a young woman’s journey.
The Bene Israel lived in India without being a persecuted minority, an experience unique in the Jewish diaspora. As the author notes, “Anti-Semitism is alien to the Indian psyche.” Indeed it is. There are only two religions in the world that say the only way to salvation is through them—Christianity and Islam. None of the religions that originated on the Indian subcontinent, that of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism believes that the non-adherent cannot find their own path to salvation. Neither does Judaism.
Due to this, the Jews lived peacefully with their predominantly Hindu brethren in India, resulting in a rich 1,800-year heritage, where the triumphs of India were their triumphs, and the struggles of India were their struggles. They were not, as Jews were in most of the world, a people apart. They were as Indian as any Indian and as Jewish as any Jew. To be Indian, however, meant that you were living in a place that was practicing multi-culturalism on a level that Christian and Islamic civilizations could never create. As the writer depicts, she went to a Catholic school where, “My core group of ten friends… Jews, Anglo-Indians, Catholics and Muslims…makes the last year of school survivable. We occupy the coveted window-spots at desks next to each other…We feel a close bond and loyalty…many of us have been together since Kindergarten.” Where else in the world did Jews get to live amongst others in this way, with this type of loyalty for so many centuries? Remarkably, it was the Hindu hegemony of India that created the environment of tolerance at that time.
This rich and poignantly written work is a tale not just of good-byes to people but to a bygone era, and to a community that, while still alive in India, is much smaller than it used to be, much less vibrant than it once was. The author writes about how, after India’s Independence in 1947 and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, she watched more and more members of her community leave India. The Magen David Synagogue, a once lively and rich environment, became over the years more and more empty, more quiet, more sad. Towards the end of the memoir, the author returns to India for a visit from her new home in Sydney, Australia and writes: “I roll down my window and lean out to get a glimpse of the imposing Knesset Eliyahoo…I sigh at the state of disrepair of the ‘Blue Synagogue’ and collapse in the back seat.”
If the background is one of good-byes, the foreground is a woman’s journey, written in a poetic language which weaves and flows through the pages. When the author depicts the farewell to her father when she leaves Bombay for Sydney, the stoic father bursts into tears. The reader is hard-pressed at that point to not have an emotional response. A good historian can recount the changing of the guard, but only a poet or skilled writer can write words that leap off the page and grab one’s emotions. This book does just that.
Despite hard good-byes and a backdrop of an era that is no more, this is a story of victory for the author. This is an account of a woman who lives free, a woman who chooses her own life partner, her own career, and her own home (Australia as opposed to India). For much of history, women had no rights at all and could never have made any of those decisions—it is the story of new beginnings for women. The author’s daughter, and their daughters after them, will naturally make those same decisions but it will have begun with Angelica and the upbringing her Jewish parents gave her.
This beautifully written memoir tells the story of a 20th century India that moves from the pre-modern to the modern age as well as that of a woman pushing head-on into the future. It has the fabric of Indian Jewry so entwined in it that it breathes life into the words of the author and encompasses every bit of the story. From the depiction of her childhood with doting parents, to the experience of living in Australia, the specific Jewish Indian vantage point brings a unique and wonderful tone to one woman’s tale of finding home.
Joseph Hodes, Ph.D., Author, From India to Israel Assistant Professor, International Studies, Texas Tech University, USA