Tracing History & Finding Family: David Berson in India

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"I want to learn bhangra," says David Berson, Executive Director of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s BC Regional office located at the Jewish Community of Greater Vancouver (bengurion.ca). CABGU is an organization that works to promote Israel’s most dynamic and innovative university located in the south of Israel.

My name is Esther Macharia, and I’m a volunteer with VIBC. Recently, I met with David Berson at the suggestion of Yael Levin of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (Pacific Region). Like VIBC, the Centre works hard to support and promote intercultural connections. By partnering and sharing information and ideas about our respective organizations, both VIBC and the Centre hope to further awareness of and appreciation for the wonders of the world we live in.

I met with David Berson to hear about his recent trip to India, where he and his colleagues (four Canadians and one Malaysian) spent five days in Dehli, five days in Kolkata, and four-and-half weeks trekking the northeast region on the border with Tibet in the province called called Arunachal Pradesh.

Berson’s main purpose for travelling to India was to learn more about his South Asian heritage; his mother was born in Kolkata in 1931, and he had never had the chance to visit her homeland. While he was there, Berson was surprised to learn that fewer than thirty Jewish people live in that city of nearly five million—the youngest of whom is fifty-nine years old! He also had the opportunity to visit the three synagogues in Kolkata, an experience that helped him understand how deep the roots of the Jewish community were in that city, and how much of a role they played in Indian life.

Another reason Berson travelled to India was to educate himself about Tibetan people living there. A group from David’s synagogue, Or Shalom (orshalom.ca) is currently sponsoring two Tibetan women in Vancouver for one year, helping them to settle in Canada, find jobs, and gain a sense of belonging. Berson represents Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel, and works tirelessly with them to create positive impacts in various communities around the world (preserving fresh water in Peru, for example, and improving medical conditions in Ethiopia).

Berson is proud of what the University has been able to accomplish, and shared with me three important booklets published by the University: Start-Up Negev: Where BGU Innovation and Research are Making a Difference, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev: Making a Global Impact, and The Tamar Golan Africa Centre at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Yael Levin for making it possible for me to meet with David Berson, and to hear about his travels and his connections to India. I’d also like to thank Mr. Berson for his time, and wish him all the best for his work with Ben-Gurion University in future!

Blog by Esther Macharia.
Photo of David Berson holding Torah Scroll in Magen David Synagogue, courtesy David Berson.

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