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Israel's University pays tribute to Tagore on his 150th birth anniversary

Jerusalem, Jun 25: In the first such honour to an Indian in Israel, a bust of Rabindranath Tagore has been unveiled at the prestigious Hebrew University here to mark the 150th birth anniversary of the
PTI June 25, 2012 16:31 IST
Jerusalem, Jun 25: In the first such honour to an Indian in Israel, a bust of Rabindranath Tagore has been unveiled at the prestigious Hebrew University here to mark the 150th birth anniversary of the Nobel laureate, whose poems and short stories have inspired generations of Israelis.

The bust has been installed in the Joseph and Ceil Mazer garden of the university, near the Faculty of Humanities, which also houses the Asian Studies Department.

The bust has been sculpted by legendary Ramkinkar Baij and provided by India's Ministry of Culture.  Unveiling the bust, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai said Hebrew University was the “right place for honouring Tagore”.

“This university having a rich Asian studies department with a deep rooted culture of excellent scholarship is the right place for a Tagore statue,” Sahai said.

“I congratulate the university for maintaining such high tradition of academic scholarship. Our ties have deepened during the last twenty years and as minister for tourism my goal is to promote people to people contact so that we understand each other better,” the minister added.

“A painter, a musician, a great poet, story writer and novelist, and also an educator... a man of peace who had a presence in the Hebrew culture of early years before the establishment of the state,” is how renowned Indologist Prof David Shulman remembered Gurudev in his opening remarks at the bust unveiling ceremony.

“I remember as a youngster when I came to Israel in the 60s I saw people carrying little books of translations from Tagore's stories by Pooah Shalev Toren. People would carry it in their pockets. Tagore was very much a presence here”, Shulman recalled.

He also expressed hope that one of his students will one day translate Tagore's original work in Bengali to Hebrew. I was one of those young students who held those little booklets of Tagore, Ruth Kahanov, Deputy Director General at Israel's Foreign Ministry's Sia-Pacific desk told the audience.

Tagore once said that “the depth of friendship does not depend on the length of acquaintance”, she reminisced emphasising the deepening Indo-Israel ties during the last twenty years.

This year also marks 20 years of Indo-Israel diplomatic ties. India had formally established relations with Israel in 1992.

“The diplomatic relations between the two countries are only twenty years old but it seems that in this short time we have managed to make a long way making substantial and full relations between the two countries and people,” Kahanov said.

”I will not be exaggerating if i say that we are now cooperating in some of the fields which have existential importance to the countries such as agriculture, food security, defence, counter-terrorism etc., and India has become one of the leading economic partners to Israel”, Kahanov added.

Representatives from the university cited anecdotes from Tagore's interaction with Albert Einstein, the Jewish scientist who was among the founding fathers of the university.

During one of the their meetings in Germany, Einstein addressed Tagore as “Rabi Tagore” indicating two meaning - one in the sense of a Jewish Rabbi and other as a short form of Rabindranath, said Vice President of the university, Ambassador Karmi Gilon.

“My introduction to Tagore goes back 50 years when I was a 12-year-old boy and had my bar mitzvah. I still have the cherished collection of Tagore's poem in my library at home”, Gilon reminisced.

He also read out Tagore's poem in Hebrew and mentioned about how Tagore street crisscrosses Einstein street in Tel Aviv close to Tel Aviv university.

“An unusual man connected to Tagore and Shantiniketan University that Tagore created in West Bengal representing the glorious period of the university,” Shulman told the gathering about sculptor Baij.

“There are many stories about Baij. Many said he was actually a tribal from the Shantiniketan area, which is not true because he was actually a Bengali who was very close to the santhalis of Shantiniketan and its impact can be seen in his works”, he said.

Tagore is also credited with the honour of being the only Indian after whom a street is named in Tel Aviv's centre of cultural activities.

Shimon Lev, a researcher at the Hebrew University, told PTI that Tagore's books were actually first translated to Hebrew way back in 1917 by David Frishman.

‘Stree', a collection of stories by the Indian Nobel laureate, has also been translated to Hebrew language.

The Hebrew edition, titled ‘She', published by Sa'ar Publishing House in 2006 carries all the stories in the original Bengali version.