Hindus, Jews share bonds of faith
This article was copied from "Hindus, Jews share bonds of Faith -- An
interfaith gathering for Hanukkah" by Steve Brunsman, which appeared
under the rubric "Religion and Ethics", The Houston Post, December 11
The ancient faiths of Hindu and Jew are not commonly linked, yet both
pull at India-born artist Bentzion Ben Yosef Yakof, an Israeli
immigrant who now lives in Houston.
Yakov, born in Bombay, India, was raised in a big Jewish
practising family. They regularly observed the eight-day Jewish
festival of Hanukkah. They burned oil in colored glass bowls. His
mother baked special cookies.
Interestingly, the Hindu families in the neighbourhood showed
up to celebrate too. "We are called the people of light", Yakov said.
"Our family was known as the Oil Liighters. We would sing Hanukkah
songs and the other people living in our neighbourhood would come by
and join in. For the Indians, it was always good to be part of any
"We were respected. There was freedom. There was no conversion
impulse in Jewish or Hindu life", he said.
Yakov's family roots reach back 300 years. Like some Indian Jews, he
considers his ties to his faith to be biblical, a solution to the 10
"lost" tribes of Israel.
The Hanukkah celebration, which opened here officially Wednesday,
included an interfaith gathering. About 40 Hindus and Jews, including
rabbis and Hindu priests, toured the special Hanukkah program, called
the Great Hanukkah Adventure, at the Jewish Community Center - West
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple
in 165 B.C. and the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians. The
temple had been profaned when an outside ruler, Antiochus IV, tried to
force the Jews to make sacrifices to heathen deities.
The festival is also linked to the miracle of oil when a
one-day vial of oil burned for eight days in the rededicated Temple.
Hanukkah candles are lit in succession each night on the symbolic
candleholder called the menorah.
The Jewish-Hindu Friendship Forum here is co-chaired by
D.N.Srivastva and Nathan Wolkovitz. Both agreed that Hindus and Jews
share cultural and faith bonds despite obvious differences.
For example, Hindus and Jews do not try to convert people to
believe in their religion. Historically, both faiths endured invasion
from outside groups. Both religions have mystical sides.
The two spokesmen even pointed to monotheism -- belief in a
single deity -- as a shared outlook, although Hinduism is known in the
West as polytheistic -- a faith of diverse deities.
In Hindu philosophy, scholars said, belief in one omnipresent
God, does not conflict with the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses.
Hindus believe God "dwells in the heart of all beings", making the
paths to God infinite.
On the other hand, worship of multiple gods was immoral in
"My goal is to bring Jews and Hindus togetther. These two
faiths stand out as the only ones that don't believe in forced
conversions. Jews all over the world were persecuted. In India, the
Jews were accepte as equals" reported Srivastva. "They are one of us".
"We both take religion and devotion very seriously. But we both don't
believe the world has to practise our personal religion to reach
divine grace", said Wolkovitz. "People like Ben Yakof have come out of
India with Judaism intact and that speaks for itself".
Yakof's Bombay is home today to an estimated 5000 Indian Jews.
The oldest group there , the B'nai Israel of Bombay, includes members
who claimed descent from the "lost" Israelite tribes that broke away
from the kingdom of Judah after the death of Solomon.
They were later "carried away into Assyria", the Old Testament
records. Said Yakof, "We claim that we belong to the lost tribe of
Yakof attended Hindu and Jewish schools in Bombay until age
12. His family immigrated after World War II to Israel. He fought
during the Six Day war in June 1967. Houston became his home in the
In Bombay, Yakof's family attended the David Sassoon
Synagogue, named for rich Indians known as the "Rothschilds of the
east". Yakof said his parents were open-minded -- as he put it,
"observant but cosmic". He was allowed to visit Christian churches and
view fiery Hindu funerals.
The signs of his Indian childhood appear in Yakof's unique
form of self-taught art, based partly on the mystical Jewish tradition
known as the Kabbalah.
In his art often appear menorahs, Hebrew and Aramaic words and
blessings, and Hindu-inspired living forms and "particles". The
primary colors of India are his favorites.
His work has been praised by a local Orthodox rabbi, and he
has exhibited at a Houston corporation.