Haifa Day remembered

October 3, 2014 by Roz Tarszisz
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Haifa Day marking the liberation of the Israeli city from the Ottoman Empire 1918 by the Indian army has been commemorated in Sydney. 

David Knoll. Yateender Gupta, Jeremy Spinak and Arjit Banjari    Pic: Ingrid Shakenovsky

David Knoll. Yateender Gupta, Jeremy Spinak and Arjit Banjari                  Pix: Ingrid Shakenovsky


Representatives from The Hindu Council of Australia, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Hindu and Jewish community members attended the event at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

In welcoming guests, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies President, Jeremy Spinak said “we are here to observe the honour, bravery and valour of Indian soldiers who perished liberating Haifa in World War I.”

“We are also here to reaffirm and celebrate the centuries of friendship of our two peoples. Jews have always lived freely in India and prospered as traders and merchants as well as rising to high positions in the government and military” he said.

Spinak said that Jewish actresses featured in early Bollywood movies, although not with their original names.

Vic Alhadeff, Professor Nihal Agar and Jeremy Spinak

Vic Alhadeff, Professor Nihal Agar and Jeremy Spinak

Hindu Council of Australia Secretary, Sanjeev Bhakri , welcomed guests who came to remember an historical event rarely  mentioned but  significant enough to strengthen the bond between India and Israel “in a very subtle way”. He hoped that the joint event would serve to make Australian Indian and Jewish communities more aware of each other and to become closer  facing similar challenges.

In explaining the historical significance of Haifa Day – 23 September 1918 – in Israel’s history, Balesh Dhankhar said.

“It is the day that brave Indian horsemen of two elite army units from Jodhpur and Mysore liberated the city of Haifa from the Ottomans.

Armed with just spears and swords the horseman attacked the Ottoman army and defeated their artillery guns on Mount Carmel. This action has been vividly recorded in the Official History of the War-Military Operation Egypt and Palestine (Volume 2).

“”No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign. Machine gun bullets, over and over again, failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries”” quoted Mr Dhankhar.

Almost 900 Indian soldiers were cremated or buried in cemeteries across Israel during WWI, and a force of nearly 150,000 Indian soldiers fought in the area that is modern Egypt and Israel. The Indian army fought in every major theatre of operation in Europe, Africa and Asia during WWI and WWII with combined casualties of 258,000 lives in the two wars.

Dhankhar saluted the Hero of Haifa” – Major Thakur Dalpat Singh who led the Jodhpur Lancers in the battle for Haifa and was awarded the Military Cross.

Haifa Day is celebrated in Ramla, Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv as well as Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Hong Kong, Durban and now, in Sydney.

“The celebration of Haifa Day brings Israel and India closer like nothing else. When 80,000 Indian Jews migrated to Israel in 1949, they remained proud of their Indian heritage. They say “”Israel is our Fatherland and India is our Motherland” and “”Israel is in our blood but India is in our Heart”” he concluded.

In examining the India-Jewish relationship, Vasu Ramyavaran touched on the arrival of Jews in Cochin in 506BC who were welcomed and accepted into Hindu life. When Baghdadi Jews arrived in Mumbai in the early 18th century, they enriched Indian society. The Israeli model for teaching Hebrew was used to help preserve Sanskrit, a once dying but now flourishing, language. A meeting this week between Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Liberman and External Affairs Minister of India, Susma Swaraj should further strengthen the connection.

Professor Nihal Agar, Hindu Council of Australia President presented NSW JBD CEO, Vic Alhadeff and Jeremy Spinak with a book India and Israel – Together for Two Thousand Years by V. Ravi Kumar.

Vic Alhadeff emphasised that marking Haifa Day and honouring the military battle underpins the significance of a deep and abiding relationship between India and the Jewish people.


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