RAF Museum 'Hidden Heroes'
The Unsung Jewish & Indian Heroes of the Royal Air Force
The Hidden Heroes initiative is an example of how the Royal Air Force Museum collaborating with BIJA is working to shine a light on individuals and their experiences, demonstrating how the Royal Air Force is a broad, diverse family which stretches around the world.
Over 150 people from the Indian and Jewish communities attended a British Indian Jewish Association (BIJA) “Hidden Heroes” event at the RAF Museum in Colindale.
The evening explored the contribution of the Indian and the Jewish communities to the RAF. The speakers were Joshua Levine (RAF Museum Ambassador and Author and Historian) and Shrabani Basu (Indian author and journalist). Shrabani’s books include Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant (now a major motion picture). In her remarks she mentioned that, despite the prevailing social prejudice, Indian pioneers joined the RAF in both World Wars. In his remarks, Joshua indicated the Jewish contribution to the Second World War was disproportionately large for a small population.
RAF Museum CEO, Maggie Appleton, spoke as did Advinia Health Care CEO Sanjeev Kanoria who sponsored the event. The event was also attended by Air Vice-Marshal, Simon Edwards (Assistant Chief of Air Staff of the RAF) and the current and former Chairs of AJEX, Dan Fox and Mike Bluestone.
Zaki Cooper and Dr Peter Chadha, Co-Chairs of BIJA, said:
“It was fantastic to be back together in person for a BIJA event after a two year hiatus, especially being surrounded by War-time aircraft. The history of the Indian and the Jewish contribution to the RAF and the military is a long and distinguished one. The speakers on the evening were excellent and gave fascinating presentations. As ever with gatherings of our two communities, there was a buzz and energy at this special event.”
Assistant Chief of Air Staff of the RAF, Air Vice-Marshal Simon Edwards, said:
“It was a real privilege to be at the Hidden Heroes event and spend time amongst friends old and new. The RAF is proud of everyone who serves or has served, but tonight it was the stories of so many Indian and Jewish men and women that brought a special sense of pride. Their remarkable contribution reminds us all of the power of diversity, and the strength we gain when we work together. Their voices, their example, and the lessons they have taught us, still echo today.
Meeting at the Indian High Commission
A delegation from the British Indian Jewish Association visited India House today and were received by the Indian High Commissioner to the UK Gaitri Issar Kumar.
The visit was part of the High Commission’s community engagement strategy. Ms Kumar was joined by Rohit Vadhwana, First Secretary (Economic, Press & Information).
The discussions covered education, hate crime and the potential for the two communities to work together.
The High Commissioner was briefed on BIJA’s latest initiatives including raising over £120,000 for Covid relief in India and also the series of Bagel and Samosas webinars with high-profile guest speakers. She expressed appreciation for BIJA and its activities.
BIJA exists to foster the friendship between the British Indian and British Jewish communities.
Zaki Cooper, Co-Chair of BIJA said:
“We were so grateful for the hospitality shown by the High Commissioner. She shared some wonderful memories of her visit to Israel, when she worked for the President of India, and described being moved by the spirit of Israel. It was an opportunity to tell her about the work we have been doing, and discuss future ideas for collaboration.”
Dr Peter Chadha, Co-Chair of BIJA said:
“We know that relations between Indians and Jews in the UK are strong, and this was an opportunity to showcase that. The High Commissioner commented on the energy in the room, and we look forward to building on the relationship with the Indian High Commission to build deeper and wider ties between our two communities.”
Bagels and Samosa's
Virtual Lunchtime Meetings
Jul - Lord Dolar Popat (community leader and businessman)
Aug - Naomi Gryn (writer and author)
Sep - Mark Sofer (formerly Israel’s Ambassador to India)
Oct - Lord Daniel Finkelstein (journalist for The Times, author and Peer)
Nov - Sathnam Sanghera (journalist for The Times)
Dec - Dinesh Dhamij (Ebookers)
Jan - Lord David Young (politician and businessman)
Feb - Luciana Berger (former MP and mental health campaigner)
Mar - Rajesh Agrawal (Deputy Mayor for London)
Apr – Ben Judah (Journalist)
May – Judge Anuja Dhir (Old Bailey Judge)
July - Shaheen Chisti (author “The Granddaughter Project”)
Bagels and Samosa's
With Judge Anuja Dhir - May 2021
BIJA held its eleventh “Bagels and Samosas” webinar in May with guest speakerJudge Anuja Dhir.
In her thought-provoking session Judge Dhir discussed how she rose up as a daughter from an immigrant family growing up in Dundee, to become the youngest senior judge at the Old Bailey in London, and the literal trials , tribulations and challenges along the way.
She also explained how outside of her legal roles she supports charities and organisations working with children and education with the goals of making the world a better place for the next generation.
With Sathnam Sanghera – 26 November 2020
The British Indian Jewish Association held its fifth “Bagels and Samosas” webinar on Thursday 26 November with guest speaker Sathnam Sanghera. He was interviewed by committee member Natalie Joseph about his career and his new book “Empireland" which will be released in January 2021. The webinar was attended by over 80 people.
Sathnam, a columnist and feature writer at The Times, spoke about his range of experiences as an author and journalist. He shared stories of about growing up in Wolverhampton as part of a Punjabi immigrant family and his journey as an author and journalist. He covered interesting topics on the similarities between Jewish and Indian communities, how antisemitism is "the original racism" and his mental health activism.
Sathnam spoke about the similarities between the Indian and Jewish communities. He described that growing up he had no exposure to the Jewish community and was shocked that classmates poked fun when watching the film Schindler's List at school whereas nowadays he has a number of Jewish friends.
Sathnam said: “Sikhs in particular have a lot in common with the Jewish community. We are actually almost the same size [communities] in the UK and internationally we compete to be the 5th or 6th largest religion in the world. There's the obsession with food, the overbearing mothers, the weird hair and the hats. We have a lot in common. I've ended up with quite a few Jewish friends because of that. We face a lot of similar issues and challenges. There is also the obsession with education!"
At the webinar, BIJA highlighted its Winter Campaign to provide food packages for those in need in partnership with Amrit S Maan’s Punjab Restaurant. Its initial target is to raise the money for 2,000 parcels, but it hopes this will grow.
Committee member Natalie Joseph said: “It was an honour to interview Sathnam for the Bagels and Samosas webinar. In a wide-ranging and thought provoking talk, he encouraged both the Indian and Jewish communities to reflect on our respective pasts and consider future responsibilities. The event highlighted the essence of what BIJA aims to do, namely strengthening relationships between our two communities."
Zaki Cooper, Co-Chair of BIJA, said: “This was another successful BIJA webinar with a popular speaker, who both entertained us and made us think. It was also important to highlight our winter social action campaign. At BIJA, we believe passionately in not only holding interesting events but also doing things together to strengthen the fabric of society. Feeding the hungry is intrinsic to our religious communities, and something that we all need to take responsibility for.”
The final “Bagels and Samosas” webinar of 2020 takes place on 17th December with founder of Ebookers, Dinesh Dhamija.
With Lord Daniel Finkelstein – 22 October 2020
The British Indian Jewish Association held its latest Bagels and Samosas webinar on Thursday 22nd October with guest speaker Lord (Daniel) Finkelstein. He was interviewed by Reena Ranger about his life and career, and his new book “Everything in Moderation.”
Lord Finkelstein, a commentator at The Times and Jewish Chronicle, spoke about his range of experiences in politics and the media. He spoke about his early career advising Conservative leaders John Major and William Hague. He then made the transition to journalism, and has been a star commentator at The Times for many years. When his friend David Cameron became Prime Minister, he started clandestine monthly meetings with him in Downing Street to interview him about what was happening, with a view to producing a more accurate version of his memoirs. He became a Peer in 2013 and spoke about one of the issues he is most passionate about, which is legislating for assisted dying.
The webinar was attended by over 70 people.
Lord Finkelstein spoke about when he first appreciated the friendship between the Indian and Jewish communities:
“Whilst I was a candidate in Harrow West [in 2001], Lord Ranger took me to a Sikh celebration and I was watching it happen. The most respected people in the community go up to the front and give each other certificates and make speeches about each other and then somebody came round with a load of canapes. Everyone was eating whilst this was going on, both simultaneously impressed by and laughing at the people making speeches about themselves. And I thought my goodness – this is a Bar Mitzvah with turbans!
He went on to explain why the Indian-Jewish relationship is so strong:
“I now live in Pinner. Many of my neighbours are either Jewish or of Indian origin. It’s so magnificent. We are incredibly compatible. I think there are lots of things that are involved in that. The combination of feeling very proud to be part of this country, wanting to assimilate to it, understanding its Britishness, but also being very proud of our origins, really enjoying the social, religious and cultural parts of that and feeling that those two things can absolutely coexist; that we can adapt to the modern world and get all of its benefits whilst keeping our culture rooms and our traditions and celebrating both the deep and profound parts of those traditions and the entertaining culturally interesting parts of those traditions. And the feeling that we know we’re in this country and we are accepted. We are grateful to the general population but we do also appreciate we’re refugees or immigrants to this country as well and that’s not always an unqualified positive experience, there are negatives that go with that. Those things together give us a similarity of interest and background that makes us very compatible communities and it’s so strong, we all feel it, that's much stronger than any explanation I can give you.”
BIJA Bagels and Samosas
BIJA hosts screening of Shalom Bombay - 27 Feb 2020
On the evening of Thursday 27th February, a crowd of 100 people gathered for an Indian Jewish Association event at a hotel in the, Radisson Edwardian Penthouse - Leicester Square, to watch a film about the Mumbai Jewish community and hear a talk by its Director, Alex Hayim.
Alex made the film, “Shalom Bombay”, in 1997 when he spent time in India. The audience, which included many people with Bombay Jewish roots were captivated by what they heard. Guests included Lord James Sassoon from the famous family and Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star.
The evening also featured a short address by Minister at the Indian High Commission, Manmeet Singh Narang, who mentioned celebrated Indian Jews Lieutenant General Jack Jacob and Sir Anish Kapoor.
During his short address, Manmeet Singh Narang said:
“Indian Jews have been small in number but they have contributed immensely to the cultural and administrative landscape of India. I remember when I was young in service to hear about Jack Jacob. That was the first time I realised we had Jews in India. The Jewish community flourished when it was in India. In Britain, both communities have been extremely successful and contribute significantly.”
Alex Hayim said:
"I am very grateful to the IJA for hosting and giving me the platform to dust-off my film and reintroduce the history of this colourful and rich community to a new audience. 'Shalom Bombay' is still incredibly relevant and focuses on the identity of a small but dynamic community that were able to flourish in an open and tolerant society."
IJA Co-Chair Zaki Cooper said:
“It was an evening of reminiscing about old times but also making new friends. As Indians and Jews we have so much in common, and our friendship is such a natural one. We are finding a lot of energy and enthusiasm for our charity as we expand our work.”
Interfaith Mitzvah Day - 14 November
Our keen volunteers from the Indian Jewish Association and co-chairs Peter Chadha and Zaki Cooper helped with some inter-community volunteering for interfaith week.￼ We celebrated the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak's Birth (the founder of Sikhism) ￼and the Jewish Mitzvah Day (good-deed) day by joining the volunteers of Nishkam SWAT (Sikh Welfare and Awareness a wonderful grass roots Sikh charity￼￼￼) by serving hot food to the homeless in the Charing Cross area of London. ￼￼ About 25 volunteers served hundreds of people of all walks of life. It was humbling for our team. One unexpected observation we learnt was that￼ many of the homeless people couldn’t take the apples we served because their teeth was simply not up to the job.￼￼ (Luckily we offered bananas as an alternative)￼. How we take small things like this for for granted. #indianjewish hashtag#interfaith hashtag#Sikhs hashtag#volunteering hashtag#mitzvah (Green T-shirts are from Mitzvah day) Special thanks to Anu Panesar for organising with the teams at SWAT.
Charity Partners for Asian Jewish Buiness Network
The Indian Jewish Association was proud to help facilitate the first Asian Jewish business network event held at Lord's Cricket ground on 4 November 2019. We were instrumental in helping get some fantastic speakers in place.
The Jewish and Asian communities both punch above their weight in terms of business prowess and share an entrepreneurial spirit, and quite often both work with one another. We were happy to see that the Asian-Jewish Business Network provided a forum for figures from a wide range of businesses to come together, network, share best practise and, encourage more trade and cooperation. Our team was on hand to talk about the work we do and the shared common values between the two communities.
Coverage in Asian Press
And the Jewish Press
Our Common Values - 16 November 2018
At Western Marble Arch Synagogue, over 120 leaders from the Indian and Jewish communities gathered communities to celebrate “Our Common Values.” This was the Indian Jewish Association's event for Inter-Faith Week 2018.
The Chief Rabbi and Lord Gadhia gave short speeches.
In his speech Lord Gadhia of Northwood said:
"This is a timely gathering falling in Inter-Faith Week and between the festivals of Diwali last week and Hannukah coming up in December. It's an opportunity to celebrate the strong ties between our two communities: 1.5 million British Indians and 300,000 British Jews. I speak as someone who grew up in north London side-by-side and in harmony with the Jewish community. That experience has strengthened my admiration for your achievements and confirmed that Jews and Indians share many of the same intrinsic values anchored around family, faith and community, with a strong emphasis on education and entrepreneurship.........It pains us to see the anguish felt by your community at the ugly rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and around the world. I would like to reiterate that British Indians resolutely stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish community until anti-Semitism is eradicated in all its forms."
In his speech, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said:
"The term thanksgiving is very relevant to tonight's occasion. How do you say India in Hebrew? Hodu. Hodu means thanksgiving. Therefore we give thanks to God who has blessed the Jewish people, and blessed the Indian people, in a wonderful spirit of harmony and amity. We have so much in common. There are four key areas where we bond together: tradition, family, community and food. The Association, in its work bringing together Jews and Indians is just remarkable, it's something so precious.
The Chief Rabbi talked about his Ben Azzai Programme, which is an annual initiative taking university students on an immersive international trip to India or Ghana:
"In 2015, Valerie and I visited 19 Jewish communities in 5 cities over 11 days. We also made a point of visiting the slums of Kolkata and Mumbai. We came back to Britain determined to do something practical to help people. So we established the Ben Azzai Programme, empowering us as a Jewish community to reach out to the people of India and others around the world who require help and assistance. Next month, we are sending 16 Jewish students to Kolkata who will return to the UK as our social responsibility ambassadors.
If you want an example of unity, look at Jews and Indians. If only the whole world took a leaf out of our book, this would be a very different planet. As Indians and Jews together, we are playing different instruments but are together in the same orchestra, and our aim is to continue with that harmonious tone.
In his vote of thanks, Zaki Cooper, IJA Trustee, said:
"Our small charity, the Indian Jewish Association, was founded in 1996. We do not have a paid staff and we rely on the goodwill of our volunteers. We exist to strengthen relations between Britain's Indian and Jewish communities. The goal of inter-faith is not to agree on everything. It is to understand our differences, and work on our commonalities."