Sadia Shepard is the daughter of a Christian and a Muslim.  She is also the granddaughter of a Jew.  Her maternal grandmother was born into the Bene Israel community as Rachel, but her marriage to a polygamous Muslim man transformed her into Rahat.  After her grandmother’s death, Sadia accepted a Fullbright Fellowship to document the small Bene Israel community still living in India in the early 00s.   A memoir rather than a direct history, The Girl from Foreign documents Sadia’s family history, the history of the Bene Israel, and her own journey as a researcher
The Bene Israel are said to be descended from the survivors of a shipwreck on the Konkan coast of India.  Isolated from the larger Jewish community, the Bene Israel retained many Jewish customs (circumcision, dietary laws, Shabbat), but lacked religious texts and scholars.  They resembled their non-Jewish Maratha neighbors in appearance and shared their language.  The Bene Israel were reconnected to the wider Jewish world in the 18th century through contact with Indian Cochin Jews and Arabic Jewish merchants.  They rose to prominence under British colonial rule as they faced less discrimination from the British than did their non-Jewish neighbors.  After Indian Independence, the majority of Bene Israel immigrated to Israel.  
The Girl from Foreign is as much a travelogue as it is a history.  The history of the Bene Israel are explored, but the reader also learns about the automatic challenge faced by a researcher with a Muslim name contacting an isolated Jewish community.  If you’re interested in the Jewish diaspora or the complex religious history of the Indian subcontinent, this book is a fascinating read.

Sadia Shepard is the daughter of a Christian and a Muslim.  She is also the granddaughter of a Jew.  Her maternal grandmother was born into the Bene Israel community as Rachel, but her marriage to a polygamous Muslim man transformed her into Rahat.  After her grandmother’s death, Sadia accepted a Fullbright Fellowship to document the small Bene Israel community still living in India in the early 00s.   A memoir rather than a direct history, The Girl from Foreign documents Sadia’s family history, the history of the Bene Israel, and her own journey as a researcher

The Bene Israel are said to be descended from the survivors of a shipwreck on the Konkan coast of India.  Isolated from the larger Jewish community, the Bene Israel retained many Jewish customs (circumcision, dietary laws, Shabbat), but lacked religious texts and scholars.  They resembled their non-Jewish Maratha neighbors in appearance and shared their language.  The Bene Israel were reconnected to the wider Jewish world in the 18th century through contact with Indian Cochin Jews and Arabic Jewish merchants.  They rose to prominence under British colonial rule as they faced less discrimination from the British than did their non-Jewish neighbors.  After Indian Independence, the majority of Bene Israel immigrated to Israel. 

The Girl from Foreign is as much a travelogue as it is a history.  The history of the Bene Israel are explored, but the reader also learns about the automatic challenge faced by a researcher with a Muslim name contacting an isolated Jewish community.  If you’re interested in the Jewish diaspora or the complex religious history of the Indian subcontinent, this book is a fascinating read.

International Women of Courage 2012

The International Women of Courage Award was created by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007.  It is awarded annually to women who have shown leadership and courage around the world, particularly in regards to the rights of women.

Maryam Durani, Afghani politician campaigning for economic equality

Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, Brazilian police major working to shut down drug gangs

Zin Mar Aung, Burmese activist who spent 11 years in jail for challenging the government

Jineth Bedoya Lima, Colombian journalist working to expose gender based violence

Hana Elhebshi, Libyan architect and activist who documented the violence of her country’s revolution

Aneesa Ahmed, Maldivian domestic violence activist

Shad Begum, Pakistani human rights activist working on education and microfinance

Samar Badawi, Saudi women’s rights activist

Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, Sudanese advocate for refugees

Safak Pavey, Turkish politician working to promote the rights of women, minorities, and the disabled 

Hillary Clinton’s remarks from this year’s ceremony can be read here.

Happy International Women’s Day!


Nearly ten million East Pakistanis fled west across the border to India in the early months of the 1971 war, fleeing famine and the ravages of the Pakistani army.

Photo: Raymond Deparddon/Magnum Photos via Time
Bangladesh gained its independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971 after a bloody fight.  

Nearly ten million East Pakistanis fled west across the border to India in the early months of the 1971 war, fleeing famine and the ravages of the Pakistani army.

Photo: Raymond Deparddon/Magnum Photos via Time

Bangladesh gained its independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971 after a bloody fight.