Bene Menashe Negotiations of Migration and Citizenship
Dr. Yulia Egorova
University of Durham
Wednesday, 28 Oct, 3:15-5 PM
SOAS Main Building,Ground Floor
Room 52 (to the left of the elevators)
Abstract: The Bene Menashe stem from a number of Christian groups of the Indo-Burmese borderland, some of whom back in the 1950s declared their descent from the Lost Tribes of Israel. In 2005 the Bene Menashe became recognized as people of Israelite descent by the then Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and in 2011 were allowed by Israeli government to continue their migration through conversion. The paper will use the example of the Bene Menashe migration to cast analytical light on different ways in which race and religion co-constitute each other in processes of transnational migration. To do so, I will focus on one specific aspect of the Bene Menashe migration – the way the community has to construct and enact their religious affiliation to be able to become Israeli citizens and to be considered part of the Jewish people by their ‘hosts’. The paper argues that in the case of the Bene Menashe race and religion co-produce each other in ways that reinforce racialized understandings of Judaism and Jewishness, and will suggest that what accounts for this phenomenon is that the opportunities that the Bene Menashe immigrants had in defining their religiosity in Israel were limited by the conditions of their migration, which developed against the backdrop of multiple colonial contexts. In the end, I will reflect on the situation of other ‘emerging’ Jewish communities in India who are in the process of organizing their migration to Israel.
About the speaker: Dr. Yulia Egorova is Reader in Anthropology and Director, Centre for the Study of Jewish Culture, Society and Politics at the University of Durham. Her research interests include Anthropology of Jewish communities, the social aspects of science and biotechnology, and the relationship between science and religion. She recently completed an AHRC-funded project devoted to the Indian Jewish community of the Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh, and a cluster of studies exploring the socio-cultural implications of population genetics with particular reference to South Asia. She is presently developing a new project on Jewish-Muslim relations in the UK.
Hundreds of Jews who migrated from India to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s were settled in Israeli development towns. Ironically, many Indian Jews had left bustling urban centers like Bombay, only to be dropped off in dry, dusty, underdeveloped towns in the Negev desert. This article explores the postmigration experience of first-generation Indian Jewish women migrants settled in the town of Dimona, Israel. Drawing upon extensive ethnographic research and personal narratives, this paper analyzes the ramifications of this migration on the social, economic, linguistic, and cultural identities of these women. Highlighting the challenges faced by them as wives, mothers, and members of a labor force, the article underscores the gendered nature of this experience and its impact on the postaliya lives of these Indian Jewish migrants. The article argues that while Indian Jewish communities have successfully created supportive and associational networks across many development towns, Israeli towns like Dimona, which remain largely frozen in time, have also adversely affected the prospects of the second generation born to these Indian Jewish women who made aliya in the 1960s.