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Elena Bose

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Interviewee: ELENA BOSE
Interviewer: Cary Levy
Interview Date: July 30, 2020
DOB: 05.18.57  Place of Birth: Kolkata, India
Location: Troy, MI
Interview No.: 07.30.20-EB (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length 43 min)
Transcription: Yousaidit (DS), Fiverr

Themes: Jewish Identity, Immigration, Jewish-Gentile Relations, Upbringing

Summary: Born of an observant Jewish Orthodox mother and a non-practicing Hindu father, Elena was raised in Calcutta (Kolkata), India. She speaks of being a spiritual Jew and a cultural Indian. She recalls observing Passover and the High Holidays in the home with Ashkenazi traditions and also participating in Hindu cultural celebrations.  Elena went to a convent school in Calcutta, an Indian Methodist boarding school, Drew University in New Jersey, and then transferred to and graduated from City University of London.

Example of proper citation/ attribution:
Levy, M. (Interviewer) & Bose, E. (Interviewee). (2020) Elena Bose: Jewish Journeys [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah: https://shirtikvah.org/cstoralhistoryarchive

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
[00:00 silence]

Interviewer:   Okay. The name of the interviewer is Cary Levy; the name of the interviewee is Elena Bose. Today is July 30th, 2020, and we're at Elena’s house in Troy. We've read the purpose of the interview, and you've signed the agreements for the interview. Do I have your permission for this audio interview?

Interviewee:   Absolutely.

Interviewer:   Absolutely, okay. Let's start with the beginning, and let's start with how your parents... tell me about your parent's upbringing and how they met.

Interviewee:   My mother grew up in an orthodox Jewish community. My great grandmother was a Rebbetzin. My mom grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts.

My father was born and raised in India, and while Hindu by birth, he was never a practicing Hindu. Maybe culturally, but not practicing from a religious perspective.

They met when my mother was attending University in Pennsylvania, and my dad came with his boss to visit their son's graduation from university. And that is how my mother and my dad met, and it went on from there.

 

Interviewer:   Okay, and about what year was that?

 

Interviewee:   I’m not 100% sure, I want to say it could have been 54; it could have been 55, 1954 or 1955 somewhere in that range.

 

Interviewer:   And your mother was always orthodox? Always very observant?

 

Interviewee:   Yes, she was raised, yes, and she had been married prior to meeting, even when she met my dad, she was married at that time. So yes, absolutely.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And then they got married and moved to India?

 

Interviewee:   Yes. My mother and her then-husband traveled quite a bit, and they went to India because their mutual friend was my father's boss's son. And who subsequently took over the company that my dad worked for. And so they became a circle of friends, and my father was a part of it.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 

Interviewee:   And then after a while, my mother realized she was really in love with my dad. And basically, there's a little bit about; I probably should step back a bit. When my mother was born, she had a condition that nobody knew what it was; it was actually Peyton Ductus.

And so she thought she was only going to live until her, she didn't think she'd live past 30, all right. So she married her first husband, and it was during this marriage, the lady who became her best friend, her husband was quite a well-known doctor.

He diagnosed her in her twenties as having Peyton Ductus, and she was the first adult to have Peyton Ductus surgery, okay. So basically, once she had a new lease on life and she realized she could live a full life, it was after that realization she realized she really had fallen in love with my dad. She filed for divorce, and then subsequently married my dad. And that marriage happened in 1956.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And then they were living in India?

 

Interviewee:   They were living in India, and where I was born. And I was born three months premature, and I was one pound, six ounces. And at that time, I was India’s miracle baby, and no pediatrician ever ever came near me. It was my mother's Ob gyn who said she's my child, and I was in an incubator for three months.

This Ob gyn anticipated that my mother would not go to full term and had ordered an incubator from Italy. If that incubator had not arrived, I wouldn't be alive. So I stayed in the incubator for three months, and he slept by my incubator for those three months. Because my heart would stop beating, and he would massage me back.

 

Interviewer:   Wow. And was this an American doctor, was this an Indian doctor?

 

Interviewee:   An Indian doctor.

 

Interviewer:   An Indian doctor, okay, that's very cool. And now tell me about your being brought up in India. [00:05:00.05]

 

[00:05:00] 

Interviewee:   Although I’m an only child, I have multiple cousins. I have nine uncles and three aunts. So many different cousins, but I was the only one that was an only child. So I grew up without any concept of religion per se, although I knew that culturally, my father would culturally observe certain Hindu traditions.

I have from a very young age, remember my mother observing Passover and the high holidays; this I have a very clear recollection of. There was at that time a Jewish community in Calcutta, more Sephardic, not Ashkenazi, and we were Ashkenazi. And it wasn't like you could go to a store and Matzah.

So I do remember there were these two sisters who never married, who would make Matzah. And I have a clear recollection of going with my mom in the car to go pick up our annual package of Matzah.

And I remember my mother observing Passover, and I remember my mother observing the high holidays. But I don't ever remember going to the synagogue, and there is one in Calcutta.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And so your mom basically gave up her orthodox?

 

Interviewee:   She gave up her orthodox to marry my dad. And as a matter of fact, she really even didn't tell her parents that she was married until I was born. She was very afraid of what the community would do and how the community would react. There was a happy ending; they were very pleased.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. So your parents met while your mom was still married, but she had a new lease on life, was it surgery?

 

Interviewee:   Yes, she had surgery. She was the first adult that went into; they shipped her off to John's Hopkins.

 

Interviewer:   And then she met the love of her life.

 

Interviewee:   And then she met the love of her life.

 

Interviewer:   And moved to India?

 

Interviewee:   Yes.

 

Interviewer:   And gave up her orthodoxy, but still practice Judaism.

 

Interviewee:   That's right.

 

Interviewer:   You said there was a community in India?

 

Interviewee:   There was a community in Calcutta, that subsequently, what happened was a lot of them migrated. They immigrated to Australia; some went to England because of the whole commonwealth. And so by the time I was a teen, there wasn't any left, really any a whole lot of Jews left.

 

Interviewer:   Did you have any Jewish friends in India?

 

Interviewee:   No.

 

Interviewer:   Did you know any Jews in India

 

Interviewee:   No. I few I did, but our paths, they were educated in other places and so our paths would, over the holidays we'd all meet up. But it wasn't like oh my gosh, you're a good friend; we're doing things together to celebrate Jewish holidays and things of that nature, no.

 

Interviewer:   So you talked about Passover, did you have Seders at your house, or did you?

 

Interviewee:   Just us. Like mom would do, but very simple. And I think part of it was, and I remember asking her much later in life when she moved back to the states, why didn't we go to the synagogue? And her response was she did not want to confuse me, and I’ll explain that later. And she felt that would have added; there was enough confusion as it was given that she was Jewish, dad was this Indian.

I went to a convent school as a kid. I went to a Methodist. She just felt there was so much going on there that might just add more unnecessary stress.

 

Interviewer:   And what did you do for the high holidays? You talked about that a little bit. You said you didn't go to synagogue.

 

Interviewee:   No, everything was done at home.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And any other observances you remember?

 

Interviewee:   No, those are what I remember.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Then you went on for education, you moved.

 

[00:10:00.02]

Interviewee:   Well, yes. I mean so I started off in a convent school in Calcutta, my mother was very close to the archbishop of all people. So we had friends from all walks of life, okay. And at that time in Calcutta, the very best school there was, was the convent school. And it was run by the Loreto nuns.

And the waitlist was a couple of years long. [00:10:00.02] So one day, my mom gets a call from the Mother Superior, and she says can you come in for an interview. So my mom and dad went, and the bottom line was as the interview was going on; she said, well, which one of you is Catholic?

And my father said not me, and my mother goes, not me. Well, by this time, she's totally puzzled. So they had to explain that it was, so what it was, was the archbishop who called the mother superior and says find them a spot.

 

Interviewer:   Okay, interesting.

 

Interviewee:   And then I went to a private boarding school, which was called Woodstock up in Mussoorie, up in the hills of India, it was a Methodist school at least during the time that I went there. It then changed a little bit and became more of an international school.

But it was during, so that's where I went from middle school and high school, that's where I graduated from. And it was during this time that I started to express an interest in learning more about Judaism.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Because you're being exposed to so many other religions?

 

Interviewee:   Correct. And I knew a lot about a lot of other religions, okay. And I liked that, I liked the fact that my parents raised me in a more of a universal way, where you learn about so many different things. I thrived with that, but having said that, that's when I started to question a little more about, tell me more about Judaism.

Not from a religious standpoint, but I was very curious. And so my mother picked up on that, and there was a family, I shouldn't mention names. But he was of Indian descent; the wife was English, they were friends with my parents, his mother said I can talk to Elena about Judaism. And so when I was home, this went on for about at least a year.

When I’d be home for vacation, I would go and meet them on Saturday mornings. And I’d go in, and it was an oral history if you will, she would just talk to me about Judaism.

And here's a funny story, so one day we're sitting there and all of a sudden the light goes on in the kitchen. And I happened to see this, and I thought nobody turned on a switch. So I thought my goodness, something's wrong with this house. So I come home, and I tell my mom this, I said there's something really funny about this, and she started laughing, and she said, you know what it is?

They turned everything on a timer, because it's Shabbat, well I didn't know that. So I was starting to think this house was haunted, but there you go, that's my funny story regarding that. So I got a good somewhat of a historical perspective of what Judaism is. That was really my first introduction, if you will, to Judaism above and beyond, knowing that there was something called the high holidays and that there's something called Passover, that was my true.

 

Interviewer:   About how old were you when this happened?

 

Interviewee:   I’m thinking 13-14.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And so then you prepared for college, you moved on?

 

Interviewee:   Then, I came to the states. And I’d lived in the states during my elementary and middle school years; I’d come back to the states periodically. So yes, I came back to the states, and that's a funny story too. Because I could only apply from Woodstock, I couldn't go there to come to the states to visit.

And I was applying primarily to conservatories of music, which I did. And then, my guidance counselor said you should have some liberal arts back-up plans. So I thought I had applied to Duke University, but in fact, I hadn't; I applied to Drew University, which is in New Jersey, I tell you. So there again, it's also well known for its theological school.

So I can't get away from the religion no matter how hard I try. I ended up at Drew, where I met my best friend, and I was there for two years but didn't really like it as much. There was something about it that I just, I don't know, I needed something different, and I then transferred to City university of London, which is where I graduated from.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And so when you were out of India, did you observe anything Jewish at all?

[00:15:00.00]

Interviewee:   Nope, new [00:15:00.00] friends. Okay, so some of my one family that I knew from Calcutta, who were Sephardic Jews, they were one family that emigrated to England. So I would see them, they lived in at that time St. Johnswood was the part of London that was the Jewish section of London.

So I do remember going there, but I lived on the east side of London. It just wasn't possible, so no beyond seeing them no, no organized religion in England.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And then what followed your education in England?

 

Interviewee:   I got a job offer from Rolls-Royce, and my plan was to stay on and live, and that's when Margaret Thatcher came in and decided if you had grad, she changed the laws, the labor laws if you will. And all of a sudden, I was told I couldn't work there. I would have to wait a year to get a work permit, and I wouldn't have been able to work.

So I didn't have a backup plan, and I didn't know what to do. So one day, I was in the pub with some friends, and they had a dartboard. And they decided to put up a map of the world, and they blindfolded me. And I took a dart, and I threw it, and it landed in New York, and that's what I did, I went to New York City.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

                       

Interviewee:   And then I started working in New York, and I was in the city for I don't know, 20 some years, probably. 1980 till 1990, well until 2000 and something. 2007 is when we moved to Michigan. But in any event, I was in Brooklyn for probably 15 years or so, but it was during this time.

So still no organized religion, although I knew more about Judaism, it was a near-death experience in Brooklyn, in Brooklyn heights or cobble hill I should say that found me wanting. So I started questioning things. And I won't go into detail, but it was a near-death experience. And it was at that point, and I lived within walking distance of a very famous synagogue called the Kane Street synagogue, Conservative.

And so, I went from no religious background to being Conservative overnight. And my mother's best friend, who is still alive, is conservative. And so, I knew her family; they were like a second family to me. So they were thrilled when, and I don't know what the Jewish term is because I don't remember it, but to them, it was like I came back.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 

Interviewee:   And so I belonged to the, and I never looked back once I joined the king street synagogue, I had found my niche in Judaism, but it was my niche, and so I got involved. I went in the deep end and never looked back until I met David.

 

Interviewer:   So you met David, and how many years was that? That was before the Kane street?

 

Interviewee:   No, well after. So then I met David in 93, I think.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 [00:20:00.07]

Interviewee:   Well, actually, it was shortly after I joined Kane Street that I met David. And when I met him, he said, yes I’m Jewish, but I don't know anything about it, and I thought wow, okay.

And the gist of it is, and I don't know if this is even the correct term, but his parents were more intellectual Jews than they were necessarily practicing Jews. They care about Israel, they know a lot about Judaism, but from an intellectual standpoint, absolutely not at all practicing.

So when we started dating, it became clear to me that he was not going to go to any conservative synagogue. And so, I said to him I want to raise; if we have children, I want to raise them as Jews.

He was fine with, but by the same token, I needed to give him his own space to find what his. So for four years after our son was born, I would take Jared to, they would have all these different Tot Shabbats and young kid events [00:20:00.07] involving various holidays.

And so I would take him to all of them like I would go to a reform synagogue. I would go to a conservative synagogue. I went to all different kinds, and I would take him to all these different programs. And I would go myself for the high holidays, okay.

And in the meantime, on all this, there's another famous synagogue in Brooklyn called the Park Slopes synagogue. I would go there, and I would take courses, okay. So it was while Jared was getting ready to go to preschool or kindergarten that David said, okay, I’m ready to join you, let's go to a synagogue.

But I knew he would not be happy in the conservative movement, so we ended up joining a Reform synagogue, which at that time was Temple Emanuel. And we had moved to Westchester at that point, so it was in Yonkers about a 10-minute drive from our house, 15 minutes drive, and that's how our journey together started.

 

Interviewer:   So I have a question for you; it sounds to me you described your father in his cultural Hinduism in being a Hindu; it sounds similar to David and his family and their Judaism. Is that right?

 

Interviewee:   Yes, that's absolutely right.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 

Interviewee:   Except that in the case of my dad, at least he would do certain, he would follow certain cultural observations. I think David’s family was strictly intellectual, but yes.

 

Interviewer:   Good. And you talked about your son Jared, and I had a question on my paper about though, did you want to make sure he was Jewish, you've already answered that. And so it was important to instill Jewish values and traditions in Jared?

 

Interviewee:   Yes. At the same time, it was very important to me to, so for example, when we moved here to Michigan, my cousins from my mother's side, the family, I remember that.

And I didn't know Michigan from nothing. So saying to me well, you have to go live in West Bloomfield, because that's where all the Jews live. So well, after David moved here, we went to West Bloomfield. And I said I don't know that I want to live in a Jewish community. I know who I am, but I want to raise my son in an environment where he is exposed to people from all paths of life and all walks of life, which is how I was raised.

And so that is why we kind of came to troy because we felt that he would be exposed to everything. Or many more things than just an enclave of Jewish people.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And you said you appreciated that your parents gave you the chance to explore.

 

Interviewee:   Yes, absolutely.

 

Interviewer:   And you wanted Jared to have the same.

 

Interviewee:   Exposure.

                       

Interviewer:   Okay. For Jared’s bar mitzvah, which I remember was a lovely affair. Did any of the Indian relatives from your father's side come in?

 

Interviewee:   Yes. My cousins from New York came in; one set of cousins came in. Jared’s godfather and godmother came in. David’s parents came in. David’s grandmother came in.

She was overjoyed because she was a practicing Jew. And she was a conservative, and none of her grandchildren other than David are practicing Jews.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 

Interviewee:   And so to have one grandchild get bar mitzvah meant so much to her.

 

Interviewer:   Cool. Was it great-grandchild or a grandchild?

 

Interviewee:   Great grandchild.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And David’s parents were there?

 

Interviewee:   Yes.

 

Interviewer:   Okay, I don't remember meeting them.

[00:25:00.00]

Interviewee:   But can I back up a minute? While we were in New York, Temple Emanuel decided, and maybe this was two-three years before we moved here, I don't remember exactly. But Temple Emanuel decided like you have fundraisers, right?

Every year. They were going to tie their annual fundraiser to having an adult bar mitzvah event. And to my shock and horror, David decided I’m going to do it. And because Jared was young, we couldn't afford to have a babysitter twice a week in the evenings for both [00:25:00.00] because I wanted to do it too.

So somebody had to take a back seat, and I decided I’d let David do it before he had a chance to change his mind. So that was a huge class, that could have been, I don't remember, 15, 16 adults. And then it was a big fundraising dinner, it was a big hoopla.

David’s parents flew in for that, and we were quite tickled pink, and he saw through it. The following year, since they'd already done all that, it was Elena’s turn, and Elena did it on her own. And the irony of that story was every single week; the rabbi would give me more and more and more.

And when I was actually on the bema doing my, he added something at the last minute that I didn't know was happening, and I had to do it and say it, chant it in Hebrew, and somehow I pulled it off, and I don't know-how. So that was really wonderful, that as two adults, we both bar mitzvahed /bat-mitzvahed as adults.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And so it must have been very meaningful for you?

 

Interviewee:   It was. It was kind of funny because when I did it, Jared must have been, I’m thinking he was in kindergarten, I don't think he was in first grade, but whatever. I was using the same books that he was using, and the two of us would study together and learn the aleph-bet.

And I just thought that was hysterical, that we would both sit there together and go okay, which one is that, I think that's a bet, no I’m not sure, that might be a daled okay. And we learned together, and it was really fun.

 

Interviewer:   It's really cool. Was your mom still around?

 

Interviewee:   No, my mother had died.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. So now, how would you classify your Judaism now?

 

Interviewee:   Reform.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Your spirituality?

 

Interviewee:   I just have a lot of faith, so yes definitely, strong faith.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 

Interviewee:   But homeless at the moment. And part of that is, part of that has to do with, a good part of it has to do with where we are in our life. And our work life and our ability to make services. But yes, that's where we're at.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And your spirituality is based on a deep belief in God?

 

Interviewee:   A very deep belief in god, tremendous faith.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Did you have that before you found Judaism? Did you have that?

 

Interviewee:   No.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. So is there a first moment or event where you really felt like you were Jewish, it was really important?

 

Interviewee:   I guess when I was almost murdered.

 

Interviewer:   Okay.

 

Interviewee:   I felt like, throughout that ordeal, from the event itself to the subsequent year and a half when I went through so much trials and tribulations regarding the trial itself.

I remember, and I see you’re bringing back memories I didn't even think about. There was a political thing going on at the time my trial was going on where I’m sorry, should we go inside?

 

Interviewer:   No, we're fine.

 

Interviewee:   Where I think some, it was Crown Heights, and I don't know if you remember that from the early 90s, the Crown Heights affair. Where an orthodox Jew was murdered or was stabbed to death in Crown Heights, well, that was a whole big to do about it.

And so, within that political realm, my trial was happening at the same time. So it's kind of like a three-ring circus. During the course of my trial, there was talk that the suspect would be released; the judge contemplated that. And he had already threatened to come back and finish me off.

And that one night, I happen to be in Park Slope. I remember going to the Park Slope Synagogue because I was familiar with it. And I just went into the sanctuary myself [00:30:00.01], and I prayed, and that was the most despair I’ve ever felt in my life.

And I remember praying, and I remember saying God, please protect me, because everything that I’ve said is the truth. The truth must win out; the truth must win out. And it did, and at that point, I had nothing left in me but to ask God to look after me.

[00:30:00.01]

Interviewer:   Okay, so let us continue. And we've been talking about the trauma of reliving your attack, and the trial that followed. Do you feel that this ordeal and despair strengthened your faith or changed it in any way?

 

Interviewee:   No, it strengthened it.

 

Interviewer:   It strengthened it.

 

Interviewee:   Absolutely.

 

Interviewer:   And your Jewish identity?

 

Interviewee:   Yes, absolutely. My faith was restored.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And do you think there was, can you recall any incidents that shook your faith over your life?

 

Interviewee:   I think my mom's passing shook my faith because I felt it was so, from a selfish point of view, it was so sudden and she had so much to offer.

And she truly was such a wonderful human being; there wasn't a selfish bone in this lady's body that I just, I couldn't understand. It took a long time for me to come to terms with that. By the same token, I’ve had a few times where my faith was truly restored.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Like?

 

Interviewee:   Well, I think I might admit, well, so the attack was one of them. In the sense that I thought this guy was going to get released, and my words convince the judge not to do that. There were other times when situations arose where I desperately needed something in order for something to happen.

And I just prayed to God and said, I don't know how to make this happen. I don't know what to do. And an answer came, was out there for me like a day or two later, and situations were resolved. And I truly believe that was God hearing my prayers. I mean, these were things that happened that were like a once-in-a-lifetime thing that just came out of nowhere, that I wasn't expecting. And it just yes, so faith is very strong.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Does one of those come to mind? One of those situations?

 

Interviewee:   Yes. And I may have mentioned it to you; I don't know. Again, it might be silly. We were in New York, and it was Christmas, and it happened to me right around my dad's birthday, which is just before Christmas. And I suddenly realized, to make a very long story short, that my dad was in a lot of pain.

Well, it turned out he needed a root canal, and money was tight at the time. And my dentist was very good and also very expensive. And I didn't know how we were going to cover this, and I knew dad needed this emergency root canal. And we did not have the money for it, and I prayed to God.

I said, please help me, my dad can't suffer. He can't go home in this kind of pain. Well, and I was on vacation from work, and my boss called me and said I know you're on vacation, but I just wanted you to know that I got a call from the accountant, somehow we missed one of your paychecks and that paycheck covered this procedure.

And that had never happened in the five years that I’d worked with her, never happened before, and it never happened after. And I was just blown away by that.

[00:35:00.00]

Interviewer:   That's a great story. So you describe yourself now as having strong faith, but you're homeless at this time due to your work schedule and where you are in [00:35:00.00] life. Is there a place that you can go or that you do go to talk or pray to god?

 

Interviewee:   No, it's just me.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And your son Jared is in Israel now?

 

Interviewee:   Yes.

 

Interviewer:   You said it was very important to you that he was brought up with a good Jewish background; how would you classify his current relationship with Judaism?

 

Interviewee:   I think it's more internal. It's not that he goes to synagogue, because I don't believe he does. But it's his own personal faith. He loves to have Shabbat dinners. So he loves to have, to celebrate Shabbat is very important to him.

And I think that he has his own personal faith in God. But he's not one who necessarily, at least at this point, feels the need to go and belong to a synagogue or to necessarily join a religious organization. I think it's just a very personal thing.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And you said that your husband David’s upbringing was very non-religious?

 

Interviewee:   Very non-religious.

 

Interviewer:   Do you think his faith has changed over the years?

 

Interviewee:   More in terms of having a Jewish identity, I think at one point, his parent's identity to Judaism was very intellectual.

And I think in David’s case, it was more of an intellectual connection that's since become more of a personal, a living connection if you will. It's just the nature of our lives right now that kind of precludes us from really participating.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And do you think your faith has changed because of either Jared or David?

 

Interviewee:   No.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Any stories you want to tell us from your life about anti-Semitism or any anti-Semitic?

 

Interviewee:   I really have not had much experience with anti-Semitism. The only thing that ever happened to me really is I was on a red-eye flight back in the 80s, coming back from Seattle to New York. I was flying business class, and the reason I mentioned that is there weren't many people on this red-eye.

And so there's a lot of empty seats, and I get sat next to someone who was orthodox Jew from, I don't know if they were, I don't want to mention the sect, so I’m not going to do that, but anyway. And so we start talking, and he asked me if I was Jewish and I said I was, I said I was Reform Jew, and at that time I was. And he looked at me and said, well, you're not Jewish.

And that totally astonished me, that left me absolutely speechless. So I don't know what you call that, I don't know if you call that anti-Semitism. I don't know if you call that anti-whatever, but that absolutely blew me away. That someone from my own faith could tell me that I wasn't Jewish after talking to me within three minutes.

 

Interviewer:   Wow, they were called narrow-minded.

 

Interviewee:   Yes.

 

Interviewer:   Anyway, which Jewish holiday do you find the most meaning in, or which one do you enjoy the most?

 

Interviewee:   It's a hard one, Passover because I think that story is so unbelievable. The Seder is such a powerful story, so it's not even so much Passover itself that I necessarily really enjoy, but that story really resonates with me. And so for that reason, I would say Passover.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. And you love to cook?

 

Interviewee:   And I love to cook.

 

Interviewer:   And you have to cook, so having people over for Seder would be the perfect.

 

Interviewee:   I don't like to bake, so that I would be to Joanne for Passover.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. When you think of your heritage, do you think of yourself as an Indian Jew, a Jewish American?

 

Interviewee:   I’m not an Indian Jew.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. What are you?

 

Interviewee:   I’m sure I’m not an Indian Jew, I’m an Ashkenazi Jew.

[00:40:00.00]

Interviewer:   Okay. [00:40:00.00]

 

Interviewee:   So I do identify myself as an Ashkenazi Jew, there's no question about that. But at the same token, I am part Indian, but I don't connect to my Indian side from a religious standpoint. It's more a cultural standpoint, but definitely not from a religious standpoint.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. So you've lived in a lot of places over your life, and you have obviously a diverse background. Is there a conflict between any of that?

 

Interviewee:   Yes. There's a conflict in well, I’m maybe Indian, but I’m actually Bengali, so that's the religion if you will, is Bengali.

That culture from a family unit, from a family structure is very different from what anybody else's would be, and that's caused conflict between me and other relatives. Because I don't think it's a system that is productive, can cause problems. But no, I consider myself to be a person of the world, I suppose.

 

Interviewer:   You are a person of the world. Okay, do you have any other stories you'd want to add for us to think about for your Jewish journey?

 

Interviewee:   You know, I guess, is it Abraham, and I’m sorry, I don't know my history very well here. Who was in a tent when the angels came to visit?

 

Interviewer:   I think so.

 

Interviewee:   And they had open sides, so he could see and welcome people in. That is the one thing that I always latched on to, that spoke to me so much. So in that sense, I grew up in that kind of an environment. We had people from all walks of life coming to our house when I was a kid back in the 60s.

                        The hippie movement, if you had Google Map back then, you could see all these cockroaches making their way to India, okay. How many hippie stories we have people who would come and spend the night in our house on their way to somewhere else? We always had an open-door policy.

And I didn't realize it at the time, but now as an adult, that story of welcoming people to your home, welcoming people from all walks of life, that's what I’m about, that's it right there.

 

Interviewer:   Okay. Well, thank you very much for sharing your most interesting story. This has been very enlightening to me and very interesting.

 

Interviewee:   You're welcome, thank you.

 

Interviewer:   Thank you.

 

[00:43:19] End of interview

 

 

 

 

 

Mon, April 12 2021 30 Nisan 5781