125 years ago, Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, made history in Chicago with a groundbreaking address to the World’s Parliament of Religions, where he introduced Hinduism to America and called for religious tolerance and an end to fanaticism. He also mentioned the Jewish people in his address to America and the world. On November 18th, the Chicago area will again make history when the Hindu and the Jewish community will jointly celebrate Diwali and Chanukah as the “Festival of Lights” in the city.
Sponsored by StandWithUs, Sewa International, Shir Hadash, International Center for Cultural Studies, Temple Beth El, Global Hindu Heritage Foundation, Pram Shakti Peeth of America Foundation, TV Asia, Viswa Hindu Parishad America and other individuals, the Festival of Lights is a celebration of two ancient cultures, who are creating modern miracles. The event features Samson “Mathatma Moses” Koletar, the world’s only Indian-Jewish standup comedian who will be performing to entertain the crowd. Lessons in both Indian and Israeli dance will be available, and attendees will dance in each other’s traditional dance steps as a symbol of brotherhood, mutual respect, empathy and harmony. The event will include comments by the consul generals of both India and Israel, both of whom have agreed to attend the event.
The event is a realization of the deep desire and global efforts of two ancient indigenous people and civilizations to unite on people to people basis. In 2017 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Israel, I had researched and published an article chronicling 2500 years of glorious Hindu Jewish ties. The planned event is a continuation of similar efforts to unite two ancient faiths and people who seek similar values.
The events though have different historical contexts, both signify the same essence. The Jewish celebration of Chanukah started when the Second temple was destroyed by the Greeks, yet despite all odds Jews were able to light the candle and it lit for 8 nights. That started the Chanukah celebrations lighting the lamp of love and tolerance. The Hindu festival of Diwali happens around the same time, celebrating Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya. The festival signifying light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance, occurs in autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in the southern hemisphere). Both festivals have the same essence, of courage, love and tolerance.
Also, a lot has happened since Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech in Chicago in 1893. A holocaust of six million Jews took place and despite all odds the Jewish people returned to their ancient nation of Israel and created an oasis in the Middle East. An oasis where fundamental human values of gender equality and tolerance of all faiths find resonance. In US, the Jewish and the Hindu community are both small minorities. Yet they excel in education, in profession, businesses and are both considered to be the most educated communities in America. Both see their success to inculcation of common values like belief in education, tolerance and a strong family. Both faiths are ancient and share common elements. One of them is the Festival of Lights as they together want to call it. The event is exciting interest throughout the community, both here, in Israel and in India. In fact, it has already made the TV news in India, and also featured in Israeli news portals. The organizers of the event recently met and shared their thoughts.
Hindus and Jews, two ancient indigenous people, two groups often been persecuted in history even to this date, are coming together to celebrate love, life and light and to take a stand against intolerance, bigotry and ignorance. Together they hope to send a divine message to all of humanity.