SS: I was 13 years old and going through some of my grandmother's papers and I discovered a small velvet box. I opened it and saw a small silver pin and it said �awarded to Rachel Jacobs,� which was not a familiar name to me and it didn't sound like a Muslim name to me. My grandmother said, that was my Jewish name before I was married. And this discovery became a catalyst for me and my family to reconnect with this part of my grandmother's life. (Your grandmother asked you to go back to Bombay. What was it like?) It was days after the World Trade Center attacks, so that was an interesting time to be a young American abroad. I felt I was in a situation to look at my cultures from a different perspective. I tried to seek out the Jewish community that my grandmother was a part of, but also to try and reconsider the different cultural influences in my own life. (Let's talk about B'Nai Israel, the Jewish community in Israel. What is known about that community's history and origin?) What is known is they were shipwrecked 2,000 years ago and settled amicably into the culture there, getting along with the Hindu and Muslim neighbors. (How do the Indians accommodate the Jews and others who are displaced from other parts of the world?) India is less a country and more a federation of micro-cultures. So there's tremendous diversity and I think the way that the Jewish community has flourished there is a sign of the tremendous tolerance in India. (Did you ever come to any conclusions about whether your grandmother was Jewish or Muslim?) Well I also spent time with my mother's Muslim family in Karachi and one of the things that was forefront in my mind was the question of my grandmother's religious loyalty. I think identity, while formed by religion, those two things are not always extricable. I think my grandmother felt connected to both traditions. (Is the world ready to accept this kind of diversity?) I think the answer is deeply personal, and at times, each person is forced to make a choice, like how to raise a child religiously. For me, I have divided loyalties. My personal practice is eclectic.

Related Stories