Mr. and Mrs. Waskar, Revdanda, 2003
Growing up in Newton, a suburb west of Boston, filmmaker Sadia Shepard was an anomaly, with a Protestant father from Colorado and a Muslim mother from Karachi, Pakistan. The picture became even more complicated when she discovered, at age thirteen, that her grandmother, Rahat, who lived with Shepard’s family and was called Nana by her grandchildren, was actually born Rachel Jacobs, and was a member of the Bene Israel—a Jewish community centered in what was then known as Bombay.
Nana died in 2000. A year later, Shepard headed to India, making good on a promise she’d made to uncover her grandmother’s roots. She spent the next two years traveling the country, meeting members of the Bene Israel community, and documenting their history and rituals.
The result of that journey is a new book, titled The Girl from Foreign, and a documentary film which premieres this week at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Shepard talks to Nextbook about her travels among the Bene Israel, the evolution of their presence in India, and the thorny question of her own religious identity.
Left: Nana and Sadia, Denver, 1975. Right: Sadia and Nana, Newton, 1977.
Photos courtesy of Sadia Shepard.