Grace Galsurkar, an immigrant to Israel from India. Photo: Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel
Helping immigrants from India integrate into Israeli society
Until a few decades ago, there were 30,000 Jews living in India. Today, there are about 5,000. But a rising number of Indian Jews are finding inspiration in their new home, Israel, thanks to the efforts of The Jewish Agency.
“I felt that I was Jewish in my soul and was attracted to Israel,” says Grace Galsurkar, 26, one of six Jews immigrating from India who currently live and study at the Canada House – Ulpan Etzion campus in Jerusalem.
The Canada House is one of The Jewish Agency’s 21 absorption centers, which offer a “soft landing” and transitional housing for new immigrant families and adults at the beginning of their acculturation process in Israel. The absorption centers include classrooms for lessons in Hebrew, preparation for life and employment in Israel, events, activities, and cultural presentations; the centers served around 8,200 olim in 2017.
“Until I decided to immigrate to Israel, I was concentrated on my career,” says Grace, a native of Mumbai. “I have a master’s degree in commerce and accounting, and I want to continue my career here until I become independent, and then I’ll look for a relationship that will lead to a family.”
Members of the Benei Menashe after their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Israel National Photo Collection/Moshe Milner
Within The Jewish Agency’s absorption centers, ulpanim provide immigrants with five hours of intensive and immersive Hebrew-language instruction five days a week, for five months. The instructors, who are certified by Israel’s Ministry of Education, weave together a variety of techniques to help students improve their command of the language. Classes are taught at several levels and include trips and units on Israeli culture to enhance the learning experience and help with the immigrants’ cultural integration. Ulpanim serve around 10,500 students each year.
“I love Ulpan Etzion,” says Grace’s friend Golda Gadkar, who also made Aliyah from Mumbai, where she studied in the same field, commerce and accounting. “I chose my studio apartment here when I was in contact with a Jewish Agency emissary in India, who helped me and my friends immigrate to Israel. As they chose the studio, my parents objected because they said I could not be here alone, without family. But now that I’m here, I feel I can cope with loneliness and living alone. My parents call every day and are interested in what I’m going through.”
Golda, who is in her 20s, says she made Aliyah because she “wanted to get to know the State of Israel closely, and deepen my acquaintance with Israel.”
“I wanted to see how Israeli society works and how people operate in Israel,” she says. “I want to know the soldiers, those who make a sacrifice and protect the people of Israel so that we can live here and be free.”
Recent immigrant Vered Solomon was born in Israel, but her parents returned to India when she was 2-years-old. Now in her 20s, Vered says she “wanted to go home to Israel.”
The Jewish Agency works with 3,000 Jews in India. There are four known Indian Jewish communities: the Bene Israel, the Baghdadi Jews, the Bnei Menashe, and the Bene Ephraim.
Aliyah from India and around the world represents The Jewish Agency’s historic mandate to bring Jews home to Israel. From August 2016 to July 2017, The Jewish Agency facilitated the Aliyah of a total of 27,770 Jews, including 600 from Africa and Asia.
This story was reported by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel in June 2018 and has been reposted with permission from The Jewish Agency for Israel.