The Navhind Times: Revealing Goa’s Jewish heritage

Ivar Fjeld , Goa Representative of Norway India Chamber of Commerce and Industry will release his new book ” Jewish Martyrs of Old Goa” on January 31 at a function organized at Taj Vivanta, that will also witness the release of Shaul Sapir’s book “Bombay Exploring the Jewish Urban Heritage. The Mumbai-born Shaul Sapir is a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

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An almost full page feature in the Friday Buzz section of The Navhind Times.

The Navhind Times. By Anuradha Das, January 30th, 2014.

“My love for the Goans is what inspired me to investigate into the and write about an obscure part of their history, says Ivar Fjeld when asked why he has been investigating and writing about the Jewish settlements in Goa and the persecution they suffered at the hand of the Portuguese.

In fact, in all probability, there are several Goans keen to know why Ivar has written so many articles about the Jewish, Goan Inquisition connect and history. And now Ivar has gone a step further and published his research in the field there will be more questions, given as Ivar is in the state as a representative of the Norway India Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and not a researcher.

” I have been an investigate journalist” says Ivar. ” When i first came to Goa, I read the book: “An Historical and Archaeological Sketch of the City of Goa” by Jose Nicolau da Fonseca, which asked a lot on interesting questions. Some questions were left open, says Ivar by way of explaining the trigger behind his investigation into the history of pre-Portuguese Jews and Christians of Goa.

From his studies, Ivar claim that there were surely Ethiopian Jews in Goa, who hailed from a tribe that us today referred to as Beta Israel, and who were most likely brought over the Indian Ocean as slaves by pre-Portuguese time Muslim traders.

“Did you know that in the years the Portuguese and Spaniards expelled Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, Adil Shah, the Sultan of Bijapur has a Jewish Admiral, and that he permitted the Jews to build synagogues in ancient Ela in Old Goa”, questions Ivar. He also questions the reason behind the deliberate obliteration of this part of Goan history.

” Goans do not know that once in Goa, before the Portuguese descended on the lands, a thriving Jewish community existed. One that was invalid in trading, administration and military, says Ivar, who believes that when inquisition achieves related to persecution of Jewish and St. Thomas Christians when missing, a deliberate blank was introduced in peoples memories. Leading to the present day ignorance about the possible existence and subsequent destruction of a Jewish community in Goa.

“Fonseca’s book tickled the investigative journalist within me, and I set out in the search for truth”, says Ivar, who as part of his research presents proof of the possible existence of synagogues within the St. Augustine complex in Old Goa. A truth, he maintains, that must be further sought. “The Jews have already got an official apology for the injustice done towards them in Portugal, from where they were exiled in 1498. A.D. Portugal has also passed a law of return, permitting descendants of Jews to return to Portugal if they desire says Ivar stating that it is this deep interest in pre-Portuguese Goa, and the Judeo-Christian Heritage of the West Coast of India, that prompted him to contact scholars Nandkumar M. Kamat and Catholic Priest, Fr. Cosme for in-depth discussions.

“I have read books, studied research papers, examined the facts on the ground, and listened to local experts, says Ivar whose book also torches upon the existence of Thomas Christians in Goa, prior to the arrival of the Portuguese.

Ivar’s purpose behind documenting his research in the form of a book is to share his findings with the public, in particular local historians. It is important to know and understand the history of your forefathers. Here i would like to credit Fr. Cosme from Pilar, for being on of the few scholars who correctly claimed there were Thomas Christians present in Goa, 800 years before the Portuguese conquest of the Indian Ocean. It was not the Portuguese who brought Christianity to Goa, says Ivar, touching up on his second piece of research presented in his book. “I might not have all the answers. But it is a start”.

Hopefully, here on, a new interest in history will be triggered, one that will look beyond a colonial heritage towards a deeper past. And hopefully the full truth about a possible Jewish heritage will be revealed in totality. For surely when many Jews were burnt at stake in Old Goa during the inquisition period, there must have been some that converted. Besides, there is an indubitable duty we have as humans towards a people who were served great injustice.

Ivar conclude with a quote from the Bible: ” John 3:19″. “Light has come into the World, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil”.

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About ivarfjeld

Born in Bergen, Norway in 1965
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