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Schlomith Flaum: a name that binds India, Israel and Lithuania together

Created: 2018.03.16 / Updated: 2018.03.16 10:01
      Schlomith Flaum: a name that binds India, Israel and Lithuania together
      Schlomith Flaum: a name that binds India, Israel and Lithuania together

      The embassies of Israel and Lithuania will launch a new book on a Jewish Lithuanian woman traveler, Schlomith Flaum, and her encounters with Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi and other leading personalities of the early 20th century India.

      The book launches are scheduled at the C. D. Deshmukh Auditorium of the India International Centre, New Delhi, on 19 March and the Abanindranath Tagore Gallery, ICCR, Kolkata on 20 March.

      Schlomith Frieda Flaum was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, on 18 March 1893 and died in Israel on 2 January 1963 at the age of seventy, lonely, miserable, penniless, and forgotten.

      During her lifetime, she traveled extensively. As an educator and kindergarten teacher, she focused mainly on studying new methods of teaching. The same interest has also brought her to the Visva Bharati college in Santiniketan, which had just been started a few months ago.

      During her two fascinating years in Santiniketan (1922-24), Flaum interacted with the leading figures of India’s independence movement, including Annie Bessant, Sarojini Naidu and, of course, Gandhi.

      But of all the people she met, however, it was the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who changed her life completely. She recounted years later that she found herself so deeply involved in Tagore’s world of creativity and intellectual thinking that she “reached the state of mind Indians describe as a state of permanent ecstasy.”

      Those two years in Santiniketan made Flaum the informal ambassador of Tagore, Santiniketan and every aspect connected to India. Her numerous accounts and pub­lications about Tagore, Gandhi and India were produced in two books and more than twenty articles.

      However, these unique materials, lending a very intimate and feminocentric perspective, were published mostly in Hebrew and were unknown outside Israel.

      An Israeli scholar, Dr. Shimon Lev, approached the Lithuanian Embassy in 2016 with an idea to translate and publish Flaum’s diaries in English.

      Dr. Lev had already produced a book, Soulmates: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach, dealing with the various aspects of the unique relationship between Gandhi and his closest associate during the South African time, a Lithuania-born Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach. The book was published in India by Orient Blackswan in 2012.

      It took more than a year to raise funds and complete the translation and editing of the new book on Flaum and Tagore. The Goodwill Foundation, a Lithuania-based non-profit organization engaged in preservation of the Jewish-Lithuanian heritage around the world, stepped in as one of the co-sponsors.

      The book “From Lithuania to Santiniketan” consists of three parts: the introduction written by Dr. Lev, the excerpts from Flaum’s original texts about Tagore and India translated into English, and the copies of the letters exchanged between Flaum and Tagore from 1922 to 1940. Some of these letters have been discovered by Dr. Lev in the Rabindra Bhawan in Santiniketan and have not been published before.

      Flaum’s unique accounts of her childhood in Lithuania have been incorporated in the new book and provide a very intimate perspective on the daily life of the Jews in the early 20th century Europe.

      Flaum’s Zionist leanings and her efforts to win support among Indian intellectuals for the cause of Independent Israel also feature prominently in the book.

      But it is her nostalgic and lyric memories of Tagore and Santiniketan, cast in a rusty and archaic language, which make the most valuable contribution. They take the reader to the days when Visva Bharati was making its first steps as an academic institution, when India was brimming with the ideas of transformation, and the West was rediscovering Asia with India at its navel.

      This first-ever publication of Flaum’s works in English will hopefully serve the purpose of restoring her forgotten name to the pantheon of eminent personalities who were part of Tagore’s circle and contributed to Santiniketan’s legacy.

      The release of the book in New Delhi and Kolkata will be attended by the author, Dr. Shimon Lev; Ms. Faina Kukliansky, Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community; and the leading experts on Tagore like Prof. Radha Chakravarty (New Delhi) and Prof. Uma Das Gupta (Kolkata). The ambassadors of Israel and Lithuania will grace both the occasions with their presence.

      The book launch in New Delhi on 19 March at 6:30 pm, at the C. D. Deshmukh Auditorium, the India International Centre, and in Kolkata on 20 March at 5 pm, at the Abanindranath Tagore Gallery, ICCR | Rabindranath Tagore Centre.

      The book will also be released in Israel and Lithuania later this year.

      Contacts for further detail:

      Ms. Rasa Nayyar, [email protected] (Embassy of Lithuania)

      Ms. Reuma Mantzur, [email protected] (Embassy of Israel)

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