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A TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER
by Judy Isenberg Kaufmann, Class of 1969
12 May 2013
My apologies to those of you who have already seen these pictures and read about Momís book recently on my Facebook page. Because of the positive feedback, I thought Iíd share it here with others of the AIS community who knew my mother, and with those interested in India-related topics. Or Jewish topics, for that matter.
For a few years in the 1960's, both my parents were intercultural consultants at
AIS. Their mission, essentially, was to introduce Indian culture, history, etc. to
AIS students and turn them on to the richness that was to be found there. My dad, Artur, taught some classes on Indian philosophy and religion.
My mom, Shirley, arranged several field trips, including train trips to Welthy Fisherís Literacy House Village in Lucknow, and to Kalibangan, an archaeological dig in the Rajasthan
desert, and bus trips to Jim Corbett National Park, and to the bird sanctuary at Bharatpur, among various others. They also arranged concerts at the school by Indian musicians and dancers. I remember the tabla player, Chatur Lal, played there, and I also recall the high-energy Tibetan dance performance that was held
in the field that was outside the High School building.
My parents also created the AIS Archaeology Club, and arranged for the Govern-
ment of India to provide us with a site to excavate, not too far from the school, along with a professional archaeologist to supervise the dig. Things were going
well, and we found a few artifacts from Moghul times. Unfortunately, the Government shut down the dig when a likely human skull was found, probably because they feared it might stir up Hindu-Muslim animosity.
My mom was instrumental in setting up the original AIS school bus system. She chaired the committee that found the buses to hire, and personally planned out
all of the routes and stops for the 200 children that used the buses. I think this happened when we were still in the Old Taj barracks, but Iím not 100 percent sure. She also created the AIS Junior Service Corps.
Those of you who knew my mom probably are aware that she was an anthro-
pologist. After years of research, she wrote a massive book on the Bene Israel
Jews of India, which was published in 1988, and is, sadly, now out of print. It consisted of 443 pages, and included several photos, maps, tables and charts,
along with a tremendous amount of meticulously researched, interesting infor-
mation. Iíve included 3 photos of the dust jacket of her book, in case youíd like to read more about the book itself or my momís professional bio.
For some very brief background on the Jews of India, here is a quote from the
"The three separate Jewish communities of India are: 1) the Bene Israel (maximal population 20,000 in 1951), whose center is the Konkan area of Maharashtra; 2) the Cochin Jews of Kerala (maximal population 3,000 in the
1940s); and the so-called Iraqi or Baghdadi Jews (maximal population 6,500 in the 1940s), who, preceded by individuals during the late 18th century, came to India from Iraq as an immigrant community in the early years of the 19th century,
settling mostly in Bombay and Calcutta."
I remember the Cochin Jewish population was already dwindling when we visited there in the 1950s. Most Indian Jews have emigrated to Israel, leaving behind very few people for the remaining Jews to marry. The main motivation my mom had in writing her book was that she was afraid that if the existing knowledge of the Bene Israel was not documented and preserved immediately, much of it the information would soon be lost. She ended up doing the research and writing the book herself, but also made suggestions as to areas in need of further study.
When my parents settled in Israel, she continued to research the Indian Jews who had immigrated there, and maintained close ties with them. A few years before she died in 2000,
she collaborated with another anthropologist to produce a collection of recordings
of Bene Israel (or perhaps Cochini Jews?) singing folk songs from their Indian
It being Mothersí Day, Iíd like to honor my own special mom, Shirley Berry
Isenberg, by saying how proud I am to be the daughter of such a warm, caring, dedicated and extraordinary woman. She is loved and missed by many of us.
Read previous emails from Judy