Posts Tagged ‘India’

Indian Characters But A Jewish Sensibility

October 14, 2012

This article was first published as in The Times of Israel.

Author Anne Cherian is a collection of contradictions. She is Jewish, yet she wears a crooked cross, the symbol of the Jacobite Syrian Christians, on a chain around her neck. She is a descendant of an American rabbi and his wife — who, according to family lore, cooked “the best borscht anyone has ever made.” But she also grew up attending Catholic school and living among Hindu friends and neighbors in Jamshedpur, a planned industrial city in the northeastern part of India. And now, she is married to a Japanese-American man from a Buddhist family.

It’s not surprising that someone constantly juggling the various strands of a complex ethnic identity would choose to think — and in Cherian’s case, write — about it.

The author’s Jewish background is not immediately apparent from her novels, “A Good Indian Wife” (2008) and “The Invitation” (2012), both primarily about the Indian-American experience. But once one learns her personal story, there’s no ignoring the keen sense of otherness that permeates her narratives, or the very Jewish place it seems to come from. Cherian’s Jewish heritage also finds expression in her more recent novel, which includes a Jacobite Syrian Christian Indian woman unsure of how to respond when her husband, a Jewish cardiologist, gets interested in reconnecting with his roots.

Promoted as a speaker by the Jewish Book Council, the friendly and frank Cherian, 54, recently talked to The Times of Israel by phone from her home in Los Angeles, discussing her highly unusual background and reflecting on how being multi-ethnic can be simultaneously enriching and alienating.

Cherian’s father, Thonipurackal Varkey Cherian (Thoni, for short), was a Jacobite Syrian Christian from a tiny Indian village with no electricity. The eldest son of “a family with a good name,” he realized that the way out of farming and a rural life was education.

“He had to walk miles to school through cobra-infested land,” Cherian recounted. “His drive and intelligence brought him all the way for graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley on a Tata Scholarship in the 1940s.”

There, the elder Cherian was befriended by Albert Paul Krueger, a Jewish medical doctor and bacteriologist who welcomed foreign students into his home. Upon learning that the Indian student had previously studied chemistry, he asked him to tutor his teenage daughter, Elsie, who was struggling in the subject at school.

“Well, a lot of chemistry went on. It just wasn’t the kind that APK [as the professor was called] had in mind,” Cherian joked.

The pair fell in love despite their different backgrounds and the 10-year age difference between them.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.



Tzipi Livni Takes Off-Road Jeep Challenge

June 20, 2012

This post first appeared on The Shmooze blog at the Forward.

Livni arrived in India on Tuesday.

Tzipi Livni figures that if she can’t be queen of the Knesset, then maybe she can be queen of the desert. In a bold and rather unexpected move, the former Kadima leader and member of Knesset has joined the Desert Queens off-road competition for Israeli women.

According to a report in The Times of Israel, Desert Queens is a women-only adventure competition, whereby 40 Israeli women challenge themselves by driving through exotic locations by jeep. Livni landed recently in India to practice her off-road driving for this year’s competition.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Bringing Home Baby

May 10, 2010

Photo credit: Corbis

As someone who personally knows gay Israeli couples who have had children by gestational surrogacy, I was surprised to find out very recently that Dan Goldberg is being denied the right to prove his paternity of his newborn twins, Itai and Liron.

I first learned that quite a number of Israeli gay men are fathering children through surrogacy in India when I read an article on the subject in The New York Times a couple of years ago. The article, written in the spring of 2008, stated that Israel legalized the adoption of children by same-sex couples earlier that year, but that such couples were barred from hiring surrogates in Israel. Thus, many Israeli gay men looked to India for women to serve as surrogates. “You cannot ignore the discrepancies between Indian poverty and Western wealth,” said one of the prospective Israeli fathers interviewed for the article. “We try our best not to abuse this power. Part of our choice to come here was the idea that there was an opportunity to help someone in India.” Indeed, these women use the money they earn in this way to buy a home, get a better education for their children or start a small business.

Normally, the local family court in the Israeli city or region in which the same-sex couple resides issues an order for a DNA test to be performed in India (or wherever the baby was born by surrogacy – which is usually in either India or North America) to prove paternity by one of the male parents. Once the biological link is confirmed, the child is eligible for naturalization as an Israeli citizen and for adoption by the non-biological parent.

In Dan Goldberg’s case, he has been stuck in a Mumbai hotel room with his twins for two months, his savings depleted, because the Jerusalem Family Court judge is refusing to issue the order for the paternity test. He claims he lacks the jurdiction to issue the order in Goldberg’s case, and in the cases of two other gay couples from Jerusalem expecting babies by gestational surrogacy. This seems incomprehensible given that other family court judges have issued these orders as a matter of routine.

But then again, nothing in increasingly religious Jerusalem surprises me anymore. As Dan Goldberg himself puts it, “This is a state of contradictions. I’m an Israeli citizen, I served in a combat unit during two intifadas and I still serve in the reserves. I’ve also volunteered with the police for years. But when I want to realize my right to be a parent, the state kicks me to the curb.” I have to admire his restraint – I’d be using some serious expletives if I were in his place.

For more information on the case, you can read about it directly in the Israeli press. Click here to read Ha’aretz’s coverage of the story. The case is also making the rounds of social media sites and word about it is getting out beyond Israel quickly. Below is a video called “Liron and Itai Want To Come Home” that was posted by Goldberg on YouTube yesterday as he appeals to the court of public opinion, while awaiting the outcome of his legal appeal.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.