An estimated 300 members of the Hindu and Jewish community gathered at the Manav Seva Mandir Temple in Bensenville Aug. 30 to take part in the first Hindu-Jewish dialogue sponsored by the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation and StandWithUs, an international Israeli nonprofit.
The event, organizers said, was “an important step” to promote greater understanding of the long historical connection between two ancient peoples, their common values, their amazing achievements, and the shared concerns about the threats of terrorism to India, Israel and the United States.
The program was presided over by Prasad Yalamanchi, chairman of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation,and moderated by Peggy Shapiro, StandWithUs Midwest Director, child of Holocaust survivors and retired college professor.
Robert Schwartz, Senior Policy Advisor, Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, detailed the economic, agricultural, and security benefits to India and Israel from their strong relationship. Dr. Richard Benkin, an independent human rights activist fighting to stop the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh, explained how his commitment to the Jewish faith inspired him to work on behalf of the oppressed.
Former Union Minister Subramanian Swamy, said to be one of the architects of India’s original openings with Israel in the 1990’s, presented historical account of India-Israel relationship, the subversive role of the former Soviet Union and the prospect for unprecedented cooperation between the two thriving democracies, both of whom live in very dangerous neighborhoods.
Standing side by side Jews and Hindus applauded each other and stayed long after the program to meet, share, and plan for future gatherings of the two communities. Barbara Silverman, member of the StandWithUs Chicago board, was elated, “I felt this group’s total connection to Israel and her safety on historical, political, and economic levels,” Silverman said.
Yalamanchi pointed out to the proactive, sensitive and pragmatic approach of the Hindu community and the participation of the Jewish Group.
Indian-Americans took Israel Pocket Facts in Hindi and the Jewish-Americans picked up literature explaining Hinduism. At the end of the meeting, people were heard saying: “We have more in common than we ever realized,” and many wanted to know when the next such meeting would be called.
Dr. Bharat Barai, medical director of the Cancer Institute, spoke about the Jews of India, who have been a religious minority for almost 2,000 years without any instances of anti-Semitism from the local majority Hindus.