There are an estimated 5,000 Jews living in India, a nation with a population of 1.4 billion and counting. That means Jews represent 0.000357 percent of Indians.
Even before many of the approximately 30,000 Indian Jews made aliyah once the State of Israel was formed, their percentage of the population was minuscule.
But behind that microscopic number lies a proud legacy of Jewish life in India that has endured for thousands of years. That legacy includes a warm and high regard for its Jews and an absence of persecution. Those who went to Israel left out of choice, not necessity.
This history helped inform a recent mission to India by the American Jewish Committee’s Asia Pacific Institute, which I chair. The mission was led by AJC CEO Ted Deutch, a former member of Congress who represented Florida from 2010 to 2022, and came at a time when India has forged stronger economic, strategic, and technological ties with both Israel and the United States.
I have visited India many times over the last 22 years. India is a vast, diverse, and complex nation that is an endless source of fascination — but it’s also a nation rife with opportunity. India offers Israeli innovation the opportunity to scale up in the world’s fourth-largest economy. More engagement can lead only to better outcomes, not just in economic ties but in promoting a healthier political dialogue and people-to-people understanding.
Our delegation met with leading Indian officials — including the defense and foreign ministers — and we engaged in discussion with them about strengthening the I2U2 Group, a coalition of the U.S., India, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates that aims to promote cooperation in such fields as technology, health, and energy.
Those relationships were on display when the delegation visited one of the Centers for Excellence that Israel has opened outside Jaipur. These centers, which are joint projects between the Israeli and Indian governments, aim to improve the lives and yields of farmers in India by training them to use Israeli technology that helps them use water more efficiently, and works with them to increase crop diversity. The U.N. estimates that 70% of rural Indian households depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
Indian and Israeli representatives advised the delegation that the 30 existing Centers of Excellence have improved farming for four million Indian farmers, and 15 more centers are planned. No country is better suited than Israel to offer this level of expertise. Israel is a mostly dry land, much of it desert. Yet it is a leader in the Middle East when it comes to food security, agricultural innovation, and making the most of its water resources. Sharing that knowledge already has made a difference in the lives of millions of Indians, especially for those whose income is only a few dollars a day.
We also traveled to Agra to check off what is invariably at the top of any Indian travel bucket list — a visit to the Taj Mahal — and to Mumbai, the center of Indian Jewish life, where we toured several synagogues. Ted Deutch helped lead Shabbat services at the ornate Magen David Synagogue, founded in 1864 by Iraqi Jews who had settled in the city.
While we were in Mumbai we visited the Chabad House, where seven people were killed in 2008. Those murders were part of a spree of terrorist attacks against the Taj Palace Hotel and other sites that claimed 166 lives. The terrorists, who came by sea, launched from Pakistan. As tragic as that incident was, I take comfort in knowing it is in no way representative of the extraordinarily positive relationship we witnessed between the Indian people and the Jewish community in India and around the world.
Because AJC is an American nonpartisan organization with a longstanding reputation as an honest broker and an influential voice, it has access to top decisionmakers and stakeholders throughout Asia. Missions like these enable AJC to build upon its reputation and longstanding relationships and forge new ones to benefit world Jewry and Israel.
I know that many American Jews might question why we focus attention on Asia, where Jews are few and far between. But regardless of the number, I have found it is important to glean perspectives from countries in the Asian-Pacific region, which is home to 60% of the world’s population. It is also essential to engage with their governments on issues of importance to Jews and Israel, from the fight against antisemitism wherever in the world it endangers Jews to support for Israel in world bodies, especially the U.N.
Indeed, I have found that as we engage with Asian countries, the more they want to engage with us. Israel and the Jewish people have a great story to tell, and it’s one that we’re always happy to share.
Bob Peckar and his wife, Maxine live in Alpine. Mr. Peckar, an attorney and the founding partner of Peckar & Abramson, P.C., has been an active participant in Jewish communal life in Bergen County for decades, including the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. He is chair of AJC’s Asia Pacific Institute and the former chair of AJC’s Project Interchange, which sends delegations of important opinion-makers from around the world on seminars to Israel for first-hand exposure to Israel.