Slumping in a chair inside a three-decade-old synagogue at Kothareddypalem of Guntur district, 60-year-old Yacobi Sadok looks hopefully?towards the door. ?
“We will soon be called to Israel,” the man, who is the leader of the small Telugu-speaking Jewish community in Andhra Pradesh,?says in a self-assuring tone. He is also the head of the Bene Yacob synagogue, one of the two Jew synagogues in the State.
Mr. Yacobi, along with the other nearly 300 Jews in the State, have been waiting for over three decades for their turn to shift to Israel.??
The Telugu Jew community is found only at Kothareddypalem near Chebrolu in the Guntur district and at Machilipatnam in the Krishna district. The members of the community believe that they are ‘Bene Ephraim’, one of the lost tribes of Israel.??
Migrated 300 years ago
The Jews first came to Telangana and then to Amaravati around 300 years ago. “The miscellaneous items used by our ancestors are still preserved in the Amaravati museum,” said Mr. Yacobi, an LIC agent. Most of the community members work as agricultural and construction labourers. A few have secured government jobs.??
“It is written in our holy book, The Torah, that all the separated members of the community should return to Israel. After Isreal was formed in 1948, the Israeli government has been making arrangements so that Jewish people settled across the world can return,” Mr. Yacobi said.??
Over 3,000 Jews from Manipur left for Israel recently. In India, Jews are settled in Mumbai, Cochin, Manipur, Gujarat and Kolkatta. Many from Cochin, too, have left for Israel.?The government offers them shelter and employment opportunities. “We will be taken care of properly. We will only have to take our clothes with us,” said Mr. Yacobi, who lives in a rented house. None of the Jews here owns a house, he added.?
For a long time, questions arose over their identity. While some believed they were Madigas, a Dalit community, and that they were labelling themselves as Jews so that they could lead a better life in Israel, the members of the community deny it.??
“The reports (CCMB) concluded that they are not Indians, but their association with Israel is yet to be established”Ratna SucceesinaPhD Scholar, Acharya Nagarjuna University
Ratna Succeesina, who is doing her PhD on this subject at Acharya Nagarjuna University, said?blood samples were collected from them in 2014 and submitted at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad. “The reports concluded that they are not Indians, but their association with Israel is yet to be established,” she said.?
Despite the reports being partially in their favour, the community members are registered as Scheduled Caste in all government records. “We have urged the government time and again to accord us minority status. But that remains a dream. We all have a double identity, one of who we think we are, and the other of what society thinks we are,” Mr. Yacobi, who is known as Devaprasad to the outside world. Only his close friends know his Jewish name.??
C. Thomas Abraham, a sociologist, said the community’s way of living is like that of the Jews of any other country.?“They eat Kosher meat and cook only in olive oil. Every person in the community is taught to read and write Hebrew. They observe the seventh day of the week as ‘holi’day, and conduct prayers,” he said.?
Mr. Yacobi said the Israeli government gives them six months to practice speaking in Hebrew.
Jewish religious leaders, called Rabbis, from Israel, had come to Kothareddypalem and stayed for a year to verify the claims of this community.?
“After their study, they concluded that our claim is genuine. But since we are labelled as Madigas, the Israeli government wants us to get the status changed before moving there. The delay in the process has delayed our journey too,” Mr. Yacobi said, urging the Jagan Mohan Reddy government to consider their plea.