Candle Lighting by Acharya Rohit Joshi and Rabbi Sidney Helbraun (Image credit: DEJA VIEWS USA)
In mid November, 425 Hindus and Jews made history in a standing room-only joint celebration of Diwali and Hanukkah. The U.S. event not only celebrated the two holidays, which occur at the same time of year and have similar themes, but fostered a greater understanding between the two communities. It also highlighted the strong bonds, both ancient and modern, between Israel and India.
Aviv Ezra, Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest, focused attention on the mutually beneficial relationship between Israel and India. “Since Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reciprocal country visits one year ago, this mutually beneficial relationship has grown in even more profound ways. The two leaders signed seven memoranda of understanding (MoU) in India, and nine in Israel — MoU’s with clear, tangible projects that have already begun.” Ezra cited numerous Israeli-India collaborations, including water technology, research and development, defense cooperation, and space exploration.
The audience, both Hindu and Jewish, clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and learn from one another. Peggy Shapiro, Midwest Executive Director of StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization, described the event as a celebration of two peoples, both of whom honor ancient ties and cherish common values. “Both festivals signify the emergence of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance,” explained Shapiro. “Hindus and Jews are celebrating together, not only because their two festivals occur at the same time on the calendar, but also because they want to shed some light on the value of tolerance, understanding and respect for other religions.”
Dr. Souptik Mukherjee, one of the event committee members, explained that "this historic event — a Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights — is a celebration of 2500 years of our glorious relationship between the two communities. It is to cherish the common values both communities hold dear: co-existence, mutual respect, gender equality and a common belief that education is the road to peace.” He was enthusiastic about the possibilities this event created, saying, “Groups across the country have asked to have similar events. I see this event as the beginning of a movement that can make the world a better and safer place.”
In addition to presentations by both the consulates of India and Israel, the "Festival of Lights" included a Diwali and Hanukkah lighting ceremony, remarks by Peggy Shapiro, StandWithUs Midwest Executive Director, and Prasad Yalamanchi, Chairman of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation. The celebration included comedy by Samson “Mahatma Moses” Koletka, the world’s only Indian Jewish stand-up comedian. After a feast of traditional Hanukkah and Diwali food, the audience participated in Indian Garba dance as well as an Israeli dance that was created in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence.
The Hindu-Jewish Festival of Lights at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook, IL was sponsored by StandWithUs, The Global Hindu Heritage Foundation, Temple Beth El, VHPA, Shir Hadash, Sewa International, Pram Shakti Peeth of America Foundation, and TV Asia.