Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they wave to the crowd during a reception for the Indian community in Israel, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 5, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Thousands of Indians from across Israel attended an event at the Tel Aviv Convention Center for the Indian Diaspora community as part of the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening.
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Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the audience, who were entertained by colorful performances of dance and music as they awaited the arrival of the two leaders.
Dancers waved Indian and Israelis flags, and the audience were in high spirits, frequently cheering and chanting “Israel” and “India.”
The crowd included Indians of all ages and of various background. Some were members of the Indian Jewish community who have made aliya, and others had come to Israel for employment opportunities.
Indian PM Modi to address Inidans in Israel at Tel Aviv rally, July 5, 2017
The Diaspora community welcomed Modi with open arms and overwhelming enthusiasm, chanting his name as he came on the stage.
At the end of a long speech, which he delivered in Hindi, he announced that he had eased the rules for applying for Overseas Citizen of India cards for Israeli citizens of Indian origin.
“We have confidence in each other and friendship with each other,” Modi told the crowd.
“When you celebrate Purim, we celebrate Holi; when you celebrate Hanukka, we celebrate Divali,” Modi said.
Speaking before him, Netanyahu spoke of two ancient peoples “seizing the future.”
Community members have origins in various parts of India, and while some have been in Israel for generations, others are relatively new in the country. But even for those who have never actually lived in India, it was important for them to show their support and steadfast connection to the country.
“The Jews are respected in India – we are like family,” Dan Rachel of Haifa told The Jerusalem Post
. She moved to Israel from Mumbai 50 years ago as a member of the Bnei Israel community.
“Modi is showing respect to the Indians and to Israel,” she said referencing the fact that he is the first Indian prime minister ever to visit Israel, after previous prime ministers snubbed a connection with the Jewish state.
“He is a true man – and that’s why I am here,” she enthused.
“This is very exciting,” agreed Tzipi Dahan, who moved to the Jerusalem area from Cochin in 1956. She noted that her father was active in encouraging aliya, and that she feels very Israeli, yet Modi’s visit to Israel has brought out her connection to her Indian side. She hasn’t been back to India since she left at the age of six, but is keen to return for a visit now.
Joseph Moses is a Brit of Indian origin who immigrated to Israel two years ago. He said he has always been in touch with his cultural identity, which he described as an important part of his life. “This is a strong message of deepening ties, which is exciting,” he told the Post.
Yifa Yaakov, a researcher of Indian Jews from Tel Aviv, described the event as “particularly significant for a community which had to choose between India and Israel at the time of aliya.
“I would say the Indian diaspora has been given the opportunity tonight to be part of the Indian nation,” said Yaakov. “They are embracing that loudly and enthusiastically, with open arms.”
With an estimated 31 million India-born people living abroad either temporarily or permanently, Modi views the Indian diaspora as a significant and valuable diplomatic asset.