My Family Story reveals rare Indian Jewish heritage
My Family Story, run by ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, engages thousands of young Jewish students from 26 countries every year in discovering their family history and expressing it artistically. The My Family Story project is brought to the Jewish Day Schools by the Israel Centre.
My son, Phoenix Bernstein, was one of the participants this year from King David Primary School Victory Park. He doesn’t know his Israeli father very well but the project inspired him to learn about his paternal family. His father’s ancestors were from the small Bene Israel Jewish community in India. He also discovered that his great-great-grandfather was a chazzan at the Knesset Eliyahoo in Mumbai.
Phoenix was fascinated by the stories of his roots and the diversity of his heritage, contrasting so starkly with my pale Lithuanian roots. He decided to build a model of the synagogue in Mumbai that symbolises his connection to both the east and the northern parts of his roots. He wanted to share the story of the Indian Jews and express pride in both sides of his identity.
His project was chosen as one of five finalists from English-speaking countries, and the museum sponsored his flight to Israel and an unforgettable two-day programme and awards ceremony. We joined 22 kids from around the world: finalists from North and South America, the former Soviet Union, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and Israel.
At the awards ceremony, Phoenix was placed first among English-speaking country finalists. Overcome by emotion, I watched him from the audience. He walked taller, proud of his heritage, his art, and his unconventional beginnings. He had found his place in the world.