In October 2021, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Israel ahead of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between India and Israel. A trip to Israel is incomplete without visiting some of the ancient sites and archaeological and natural wonders like the Sea of Galilee. For the important Indian visitor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry chose veteran tour guide Roley Horowitz.
During Mr. Jaishankar’s visit to the Tower of David, also known as the Citadel, his guide not only introduced him to the latest conservation practices meticulously followed in Israel, but also its past. Ms. Roley’s presentation covered the entire period from the Jewish antiquity of the region to the Mamluks and beyond.
For Ms Roley, this presentation came naturally as it did for many others like Bollywood actor Sonam Kapoor and his mother Sunita, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, late External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Ms Roley’s most famous visitor, however, was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Israel in 2005. During that visit, she surprised him by revealing that her original name is in fact Savitri Mehta . “After that, throughout his stay, Mr Modi called me Savitriben,” said Ms Roley, who told her guest how she became Savitri Ruth Mehta Horowitz.
Ms Roley introduced Israel to Mr Modi with the ease and scientific expertise with which she had guided CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury when he attended a Communist Party of Israel conference in Nazareth or former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Preach the gospel of Jesus
Alipore’s Ms. Savitri’s journey from Kolkata to Israel began in the early 1960s when, at the age of 12, Savitri, daughter of the military attache at the Indian Embassy in Tokyo, rebels against her parents, Brigadier CS Mehta and her mother Sunita Roy. .Mrs. Savitri arrived from her Japanese class and declared that she would embrace Christianity. The announcement drew resistance from her Brahmin mother and Sikh father. But she persisted and within three years convinced her parents to embrace Christianity. Back in Kolkata and then Calcutta, she was often seen near a church in Bow Bazar preaching the gospel of Jesus with a megaphone. As the call of Jesus Christ drew her to Israel two decades later, her first love, however, was Air India.
Ms Roley joined Air India as a flight attendant in 1972 and has flown to London, Tokyo, Dubai, Hong Kong and New York. “On those days we would travel in Boeing 707s and 747s. We would be assigned to a particular station for three months and serve in Air India flights for a certain sector,” she said, recalling the incident. era when the ultimate global destination was the Lebanese capital. Beirut, also known as the Paris of the Middle East. She then moved to London where, together with future novelist Mala Sen, organized a protest against senior airline officials over the termination of the services of several employees of the airline’s London office. After a three-year stay in Houston, the globetrotter joined Israel, where she finally felt at home.
For nearly a decade thereafter, Ms Roley was one of the handful of Indians who called Israel home. She started as a volunteer in a Christian organization but after studying ancient Christianity in depth, she chose to become a Jew in 1989. The Jewish faith does not encourage religious conversion and that is why Ms Roley had to study with Orthodox rabbis for two years. and was accepted into the faith after interviews with the Orthodox rabbinical court. In Israel, Ms. Roley found her new profession as a tourist guide, which had the license of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Months before Israel and India established ties on January 29, 1992, Ms Roley married Michael Arthur Horowitz, a lawyer renowned for fighting war crimes. Shortly after the establishment of Indo-Israeli relations, she and scholar Shalva Weil and Indian bandleader Zubin Mehta established an organization to foster Indo-Israeli relations.
Over the years, Ms. Roley has worked as a licensed Israeli guide and has made friends all over the world. His list would expand to include prime ministers like Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu and even current President Isaac Herzog.
Over the past three decades, Ms. Roley has gone from a licensed Israeli guide to an expert on the region. Her tour presentations reflect Israel’s complicated history which she absorbed as she walked across the country – from the Golan Heights to holy churches, from Jewish sites to Palestinian villages in Israel. “History is not black and white,” she said, referring to Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Ms Roley, who currently splits her time between Israel and her Indian home in Goa, says the most important thing for her is to “play an instrumental role” in sharing her knowledge of the complex region that is home to Israel. “Israelis celebrate diversity, failure and tend to be always dissatisfied, which forces them to constantly try to be better, to try harder,” she observed. And she thinks it would be a “big publicity moment” if Air India rehired some of the “seniors”!