Bene Israel - Orientation

Identification. The Bene Israel Indian Jews lived in Bombay and in villages on the Konkan Coast, south of Bombay, in Maharashtra State. Today less than 5,000 Bene Israel live in India, and more than 30,000 live in Israel. The Bene Israel claim that they originated in Israel and were shipwrecked off the Indian coast in the year 175 B . C . The name " Bene Israel " means "Children of Israel" in Hebrew, bolstering their origin claims.

Location. In India the Bene Israel originally lived in more than 100 villages along the Konkan Coast, such as Pen, Ashtame, and Navgaon. In the nineteenth century they moved to Bombay and set up small colonies in other cities in India (e.g., Ahmedabad, Poona, and Delhi), leaving only a few hundred families in the Konkan.

After 1948 the Bene Israel community (all but 5,000) gradually moved to Israel, where they live exclusively in urban settlements. At first, the Bene Israel had difficulty adjusting to a climate colder than India's, but this problem passed.

Demography. The Bene Israel population increased from 6,000 in the 1830s to 20,000 in 1948. Since then, due to natural increase and the decline of infant mortality in Israel, an estimated 32,000 Bene Israel live in Israel; less than 5,000 remain in India.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Bene Israel speak Marathi, an Indo-Aryan language, although it is dying out among the younger generation in Israel. In addition, the more educated speak English. In Israel, the Bene Israel speak modern Hebrew.

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