Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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ment pervaded the thoughts of the “Bene-Israel” at an early stage.
Under the impact of Theodor Herzl’s audience with the Turkish
sultan Abdul Hamid II in Constantinople in 1901, a leader of
the Cochin community, Naphtali Eliyahu Rahabi, dispatched a
letter in October, 1901, to Theodor Herzl. In it he stated, “The
Zionist movement created by you has put your coreligionists
throughout India into great excitement, specially after your inter-
view with the Sultan of Turkey. Now you can draw enormous
sums from India to aid the movement if you inform the Jews of
India of your aim. Therefore, it will be of great importance if
you authorize the leading Jews of India whose names and
addresses I write below to collect money for your valuable aim
and at the same time authorize me to collect from the seven con-
gregations of Cochin, Ernakulam, Paroor, Shenomangalam, and
Mala, on the Malabar Coast. Wishing you Godspeed and every
success.”
Among those N. E. Rahabi suggested as potential supporters
of the movement were leaders of the communities of Calcutta,
Cochin, Rangoon, and the leader of the “Arabian” Jews in Bom-
bay. But not a single member of the “Bene-Israel” community
was mentioned. This omission may have been due to their poverty
and their inability to mobilize financial resources for the Zionist
movement. It may, however, also signify the cleavage which, at
that time at least, prevailed between the Cochin and Baghdad
Jews on the one hand, and the “Bene-Israel” of Bombay on the
other.
Documentary evidence, however, reveals that the “Bene-Israel”
community was also imbued with the love of Zion, though it
manifested itself at a later date. In July, 1897, according to the
periodical
Bene-Israelite,
the “Bene-Israel” community was invited
by the leaders of the Zionist movement to participate in the First
Zionist Congress in Basel, but they declined because they looked
to the fulfillment of the restoration of Zion by the “Divine Hand.”
In October, 1897, following the First Zionist Congress, Heinrich
Loewe, one of the earliest German Zionist leaders and a friend
of Herzl, sent a report to the
Bene-Israelite,
and in his covering
letter he stated: “It would be most desirable and important for
Jewish affairs and the cause of Judaism if the “Bene-Israel” will
send delegates to the Zionist Congress next year, after having pre-
viously founded Zionist associations in towns and villages of
India.”
According to the records, it was only in April, 1919, sixteen
years after the establishment of the first Zionist Association in
Cochin, that the Bombay Zionist Association was founded. Their
first resolution adopted stated “that this public meeting of the
‘Bene-Israel’ community in Bombay fully sympathizes with the