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home : news : local news January 02, 2011

12/29/2010 2:23:00 PM
Boosting international ties Local rabbi raising money to ship books to India
Rabbi Howard Gorin, right, oversees a book sale last January to raise money to send books to Jewish communities in Africa.
Rabbi Howard Gorin, right, oversees a book sale last January to raise money to send books to Jewish communities in Africa.

by Aaron Leibel
WJW Staff

The word apparently has reached all the way to South Asia: If you need Jewish books, contact Rockville's Rabbi Howard Gorin.
That's exactly what Navras Jaat Aafreedi - an assistant professor in international relations at the Gautam Buddha University in India - did.
And in his letter to Gorin for help, Aafreedi congratulated the rabbi for "his commendable work" supplying books to the Jewish communities of Africa.
Gorin has accepted the challenge. On Sunday, a sale of Judaica works will take place at his synagogue, Tikvat Israel Congregation, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with proceeds used for shipping 261 books to the Indian university. The sale will include Bibles, Talmud and rabbinic literature and books dealing with philosophy, theology, American Jewish history, Holocaust studies, Israel and Zionism.
"The books are all high quality," says Gorin. "I don't sell books with torn covers or water stains. Some are brand new."
The books donated to India will support a course on Jewish history and culture Aafreedi is attempting to organize at Gautam Buddha University - the first such course in South Asia.
His course would counter ignorance among Indians about Jews, he writes in an e-mail interview.
"This ignorance is dangerous as it gives birth to stereotypes, from which emanate prejudices and biases, which ultimately lead to feelings of hostility and hatred," he writes. "The only way to eliminate ignorance is to create awareness and spread knowledge through the dissemination of information, by various means. A course in Jewish History and Culture would be one of those means."
Ignorance also can lead to violence. In that regard, he notes that one measure of the importance of what he is trying to do can be seen in two of the most visible murders of Jews in the 21st century - the attack on Chabad House in Mumbai and the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl - both of which happened in South Asia.
It's the use that Aafreedi will make of his books that most intrigues Gorin. The Indian academic is not Jewish, but will be using the books to teach non-Jews in a Muslim area of India about Judaism.
"I look at it as using the books to promote understanding between people," he says.
The rabbi says he hopes to go to the university "to help people gain a better understanding of Judaism and dispel some misunderstandings, but that's far down the road," he says.
The rabbi has been collecting books and sending them to Nigeria and elsewhere since 2004 when he noticed a dearth of Jewish books for people in that country trying to live according to Judaism's tenets. He has so far sent 12 to 14 tons of books to communities in need of Jewish books (http://rabbihowardgorin.org/Book_Project.html).
Gorin receives books from a variety of sources, including congregants, colleagues, seniors downsizing their houses and assisted living facilities into which they move.
When he receives donations, Gorin says, he does "triage" with the books, deciding which are going to be for sale and which going to be given away.
The book collection is not Aafreedi's first connection to things Jewish. Last year, he organized what he terms "the first Holocaust films retrospective in South Asia" in Lucknow, India. Forty-six films were shown during two months and seen by some 4,000 people, he says. Those who saw the films would help to combat Holocaust denial and minimization, he writes.
It was significant, he writes, that the films were shown "in the centre of the Muslim heartland of South Asia."
A self-described secular humanist, the Muslim-born Aafreedi says that because of his work, he has been attacked verbally and his research and social activism have often been misrepresented in the local press "as Jewish or Zionist conspiracies against Muslims."
In an online discussion of his film festival (http://sites.google.com/site/aafreedi/thefirsteverholocaustfilmsretrospective), he notes that "Jewish/Israelite History had always fascinated me, but I fell in love with Israel and the Jewish culture during the one academic year (2006-2007) I spent in Israel ... ."
For that year, he received an Israeli government-funded postdoctoral research grant to study "Traditions of Israelite Descent Among Certain Muslim Groups in South Asia" at the graduate school of historical studies at Tel Aviv University.
He presented a paper based on his research at the 19th annual conference of the Midwest Jewish Studies Association in Evanston, Ill., in October 2007 and published it in Purdue University's Jewish studies journal, Shofar.
Asked what impressed him most about Israel, the Indian scholar answers in two words: "Its resilience."


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