Magen David Synagogue and 5 things about Calcutta’s Jews.
I had no proper plans made for this year’s Christmas. Tired of resting, I boarded a taxi and asked the driver to take me around, perhaps to a less crowded church. I was busy searching for some church over the internet when the taxi driver stopped the car, in front of a well decorated small Catholic church. Strikingly, to its opposite side, a mammoth church like structure stood there desolate, without decoration. The clock on its wall, wasn’t even working.
Oh wait. This is not a Christian church, I read about it in Rangan Da’s blog post! I hurriedly paid the taxi and started walking towards the building. At the gate, I found no one. I asked people around, who called the care taker and the care taker opened the door for me.
“Is everyone allowed to get in? Isn’t permission required from Nahoum’s?” I asked him in Hindi. He said how Nahoum died a couple of years back. It is now open to the people with an admission fee of a hundred rupees.
Let me not describe the interiors in words. Check out the photographs:
Do you know:
There were as many as 6000 Jews in Calcutta? The first was Shalom Cohen, who did businesses of gems, rosewater, Arabian horses, silk, spice and indigo. Most of the Jews in Calcutta were Baghdadi Jews. Now we are left with around 20.
Most of them left India, during the Hindu-Muslim riot post partition and Indian independence. Rumors of nationalization of Banks were strong and roughly that time, the Jewish country Israel was formed. They still regard India as a country who has always welcomed them.
Do you know?
The first Miss India Pramila was born Esther Victoria Abraham, a Jew based in Calcutta. The Bengali diva during silent movie era – Arati Devi, was Rachael Sofaer, another Jewish lady based in Calcutta.
Nahoum’s fruit cake which is a Bengali tradition during Christmas, is a Jewish recipe.
Magen David Synagogue is the largest and most ornate synagogue in Asia. Built in 1884, this is heavily influenced by the British architecture and has a steeple, which else is most unlikely in a synagogue. It has two floors, the men used to sit downstairs with the women sitting upstairs, in its wooden pews.
Know this: More than 80% of the students studying in the Jewish Girls school are Muslim. The last Jewish student who studied there passed out almost 4 decades ago. The care takers of the synagogue are also Muslims. Although in the middle east the Muslims and the Jews continue with their bitter sweet relationship, things were more than benevolent in this part of the world.
Heard about Kolkata’s Ezra Street? This was built by Elias David Joseph Ezra, son of David Joseph Ezra who was a real estate businessman and associated with buildings like Esplanade mansion, Ezra mansion, Chowrangee mansion. Calcutta’s Ezra street is named after him.
The biggest challenge the Jews face today is to conduct the (Shabbat) service in the synagogue. The service requires 10 adult males to conduct it.
Jael Siliman, who is one of the youngest of Jews in Calcutta today, is collecting all range of Jewish records in Calcutta and taking it online, to preserve it.
This majestic structure had narrowly escaped demolition during the construction of the Howrah Bridge. This building however, is again under threat because of Kolkata’s East West Metro rail road construction.
Do read more of the Magen David Synagogue in Rangan Datta’s blog post.
Update 16.01.2015 : Justice Soumitra Pal, mentioned that no construction can be done within 100 metres of Magen David and Bethlehem synagogue. Press report: http://goo.gl/FMruqA