Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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9
F
ischel
—L
iterary
A
ctivities
of
th e
“B
ne
-I
srael
contributions as lawyers, judges, physicians, engineers, industrial-
ists, inspectors of post, telegraph and prison services, as artists,
journalists, and musicians. In the field of general scholarship, they
distinguished themselves as professors of botany, zoology, Hebrew
and other areas at various educational institutions.
The reconversion of the “Bene-Israel'״ to traditional Judaism,
and their zeal in translating Hebrew liturgy and in establishing
new synagogues and prayer-houses in Bombay and the villages
did not deter their producing also original works of a secular
nature in the Marathi language: novels, stories, plays, dramas,
etc. The first “Bene-Israel” writer of original works in Marathi
was B. J. Talkar, who published in 1867
Gul and Sanubar,
fol-
lowed by a novel
Bago Bahar
(“A Beautiful Garden”) by M. D.
Talkar.
A special place in their Marathi oriented activities was occupied
by the “Kirtan”—the name for a special genre of religious and
moral folk poetry, borrowed from their Hindu neighbors. The
“Bene-Israel” ballad singers would compose spontaneously and
perform in song or oral exposition as a means of religious edifi-
cation. The pioneer in this very popular branch of folk poetry
was Benjamin Samson Ashtamkar, who is regarded as the first
“Kirtankar.” He selected as his topics biblical stories and heroes
to be sung either alone or with an accompanying chorus before
large audiences.
Since the last decades of the 19th century, the “Bene-Israel” in
Bombay published Marathi or Marathi-Anglo periodicals: weeklies,
monthlies, or annuals—none in Hebrew. In these the “Bene-Israel”
group demonstrated an amazing fertility and prolificacy, revealing
enthusiasm and vitality. Among the titles of these journals are:
Israeli Dnyan-Sangraha,
or the
Treasury of the Jewish Wisdom
(1886),
Light of Truth, Shelter of Israel, Lamp of Judaism, The
Bene-Israel, The Friends of Israel, The Voice of Sinai, The
Israelite,
and many others. Though most of these publications
were short-lived, they were replaced by others until recent years.
A thorough and systematic combing of this Marathi-Anglo peri-
odical literature would reveal an insight into the educational and
social problems of the community and would reflect the never
ceasing tensions, frictions and jealousies among them.
The “Bene-Israel” and Zion
The absence of a particular feature in this literature is conspic-
uous, namely, the idea of Zion and the return to Zion. Unlike the
Cochin Jews, who reacted to modern Zionism most favorably,
there is no record available to show that the “Hibbat Zion” move­