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Bindaas: a fusion of Israeli and Indian culture

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Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur performed at Toronto’s Tryst Nighclub

Under the glow of white patio lights, amid a swirl of friendly faces and Indian music playing in the background, more than 300 Jewish and Indian young professionals gathered earlier this month at a Toronto nightclub to experience Bindaas, an event that embraced Indian-Jewish music, food, art and dance.

The word “bindaas” – Hindi slang for “cool” or “it’s all good” – best described this spectacular event, organized and sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs  (CIJA), SizeDoesntMatter.com and Hillel of Greater Toronto, in partnership with 16 other organizations from Toronto’s Indian and Jewish communities.

The Sept. 6 event, held at Tryst Nightclub, catered to all the senses, as guests were treated to savoury Indian-Jewish cuisine, such as vegetarian pakoras, samosas served with spicy mango dip, mini pita falafel sandwiches, and an assortment of colourful Indian sweets, honey cake and halvah.

Henna tattoos were a big hit, and it was worth the wait to have one of Vaishali Shah’s beautiful creations. 

The excitement continued with a mesmerizing classical Indian dance performance, called Katahk, performed by husband-and-wife team Hemand and Vaishali Panwar of the Panwar Dance Academy.

The highlight of the evening’s entertainment was internationally acclaimed Israeli composer, producer and performer Shye Ben Tzur and his four Indian bandmates, the Rajashthan Gypsies.

Ben Tzur, formerly part of the rock band Sword of Damocles, moved to India for more than a decade and learned Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music.

With two albums to his credit, Ben Tzur has created his own unique Qawwali music, infused with Hebrew verses, as well as other unique compositions and Hebrew poetry.

The idea for Bindaas arose a few months ago, when Hillel of Greater Toronto’s Israel programming director, Shirin Ezekiel-Hayat, whose parents emigrated from India to Israel in the 1960s, had always wanted to do something with Toronto’s Jewish Indian community.

When she was approached by the Ashkenaz Festival about possibly having Ben Tzur play at a joint event, Ezekiel-Hayat immediately contacted Dan Hadad, CIJA’s assistant director of special projects and founder of SizeDoesn’tMatter.com, a project that promotes Israel using social media.

Hadad was equally excited to help launch an event that would highlight the rich cultures of both India and Israel.

Reflecting on the event and on being an Israeli-Indian Jew, Ezekiel-Hayat said the event was “very exciting.”

“The event was a lot of things all coming together – the way I grew up with the Indian culture, my love for Israel and making these connections between my background, my heritage and the future,” she said.

“I know that in Canada we can work on building allies with other communities to have a stronger Israel. My dream of communities working together and being able to share each other’s culture can be a reality.”

Always seeking opportunities to reach out to other communities and showcase Israeli art and music, Hadad saw Bindaas as the perfect way to connect the Toronto Indian and Jewish young professionals, but he also hopes to reach out to non-Jewish communities.

“I think the Jewish community is in a certain bubble, and we think that there’s not that much interest from the non- Jewish community out there, but the reality is at the end of the day we are all curious and want to learn about each other’s culture,” Hadad said.

 Sarina Rehal, CIJA’s assistant director of community relations, whose family background is Sikh, saw Bindaas as a natural fit between the two-Indians and Jews.

She spoke of both being immigrant groups in Toronto and also noted the warm diplomatic relations that exist between India and Israel, with strong partnerships in the areas of agriculture, technology and tourism.

Rehal knows that investing in events such as Bindaas and creating a positive platform to connect and make new friendships, “often leads to collaboration on more critical issues that may arise later in time.”

Rehal was ecstatic about the overwhelming turnout and commented on the exceptional commitment from the sponsorship partners and their young leadership.

“The sponsors have been partners in planning every aspect of this event, and that speaks volumes to the connection between the two communities.” 

To view pictures and videos from the event, visit www.sizedoesntmatter.com/bindaas.

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