ACCESS: AJC's new generation

...engaging today’s critical domestic and international issues.

Working at the nexus between the Jewish community and the world, ACCESS reaches out to diplomats, policy makers and young leaders of diverse religious and ethnic communities.


Sunday, March 7

The ACCESS delegation’s visit to Akshardam was an excellent finale to our sightseeing around Delhi.  Akshardam is a major temple complex constructed by the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism, and is the largest Hindu temple in the world.  It was truly a sight to behold!  Built entirely of pink sandstone using traditional building methods, the seven thousand stone carvers who worked on the project not only worked their full day’s shift of carving, but also volunteered many additional hours each day in order to complete the monumental undertaking in only four years. According to one of our guides, the intent was to build a temple complex that would stand for centuries, along the lines of what we saw at Qutb Minar earlier in the day.

The temple complex has an IMAX theater, apparently the only one in India, which shows a movie about the odyssey of Nilkanth, a boy who left his home village and traveled throughout India to learn about its people and spread his Hindu teachings and spirituality.  Our group also took a boat ride through a museum that imparted amazing lessons about the history of India and its people.  I learned many amazing facts about India on this ride, including the fact that India is home to the world’s first university and that Indians apparently discovered or developed many scientific principles decades or centuries before Western scientists. 

After our group experienced many of the tourist wonders at Akshardam, including musical dancing fountains and the beautiful, massive stonecarvings, we met with one of the Hindu Sadhus in residence at Akshardam.  We had a lengthy discussion about his spiritual journey and he shared some of the teachings of the head of the sect that built the complex.  It was during this conversation that we also delved into the striking similarities between modern Hinduism and modern Judaism.  One reason Akshardam was created and incorporates things like a historical boat ride and an IMAX theater is that many younger Hindus have lost connection with the traditions of Hinduism, in much the same way that younger Jews do not follow many of the traditional aspects of Judaism.  Intermarriage, modernization, and assimilation necessitated the incorporation of these modern entertainment venues in order to connect with younger people that are more interested in technology than texts.  Akshardam had an impact as an amazing tourist destination as well as an insight into the historical underpinnings and current state of one of the world’s major religions. 

M. Newman

Lunch with Orna Sagiv
Tuesday, March 2

Today, our delegation had a lunch meeting with Orna Sagiv, Consul General of Israel to Mumbai.  This diplomatic posting is more critical to the Israeli-Indian relationship, and to the average Indian’s perception of Israel, than one might think.  Israel’s closest ties to India result from its heavy involvement in India’s developing agricultural industry.  In fact, as we learned from CG Sagiv, Israel’s sharing of its advanced drip irrigation technology has made it extremely popular with the Indian people, many of whom are connected with the agriculture industry.  With an eye toward the future of this important relationship, CG Sagiv explained that Israel’s challenge is to achieve recognition beyond drip irrigation, which will require a major expansion of Israeli companies’ investment in India and Indian companies’ investment in Israel.  Two important areas of commerce that we discussed in detail with CG Sagiv were the vibrant Indian film and entertainment industry and India’s still-developing defense technology industry.  

Like many others with whom our group met, CG Sagiv mentioned that India is free of an endemic anti-semitic cultural attitude.  Unlike many countries, India’s relationship with Israel has been focused primarily on issues such as tourist visas for Indians and Israelis visiting the two nations and the commercial interconnection between the two countries, rather than the Israeli-Arab conflict.  Meeting with SG Sagiv gave our group an excellent foundation regarding the commercial focus of Israeli-Indian relations, and we were able to reflect back on her briefing as we learned more about India and the Indian people.

M. Newman