In her poetry, Zilka Joseph channels the stories of her Bene Israel ancestors in India

Zilka Joseph is a writer and teacher of Bene Israel descent now living in Ann Arbor, MI. (Supplied photos)

There’s a fact Zilka Joseph likes to toss out to prove how old the Bene Israel culture is: the community, native to the Indian subcontinent, spent centuries unaware of what Hanukkah was. That’s because the first Bene Israel people arrived on the shores of modern-day India in 175 BCE, according to some estimates—almost a full decade before the Maccabees fought back against King Antiochus. Blending into the local culture, the Bene Israel people built their unique community without contacting outside Jews until centuries later.

Joseph tells this story, and others, in her new book of poetry, Sweet Malida: Memories of a Bene Israel Woman, published by Mayapple Press. A blend of historical lessons, personal stories and beautiful poems, Joseph weaves together a tapestry of life in India, connecting past and present, examining how her culture has stayed alive despite waves of migration, assimilation and an exodus to Israel shortly after the state’s establishment.

Joseph discusses all this on the latest episode of Rivkush, The CJN’s podcast spotlighting remarkable Jews of colour, hosted by Rivka Campbell.


Rivkush is hosted by Rivka Campbell. Michael Fraiman is the editor and prodcer. Our theme music is by Westside Gravy. The show is sponsored by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and is a member of The CJN Podcast Network. Support the show by subscribing to this podcast or donating to The CJN.