History of the Jews in Kolkata

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The history of the Jews in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) in India, dates back to the eighteenth century. The Jewish community of Kolkata are mostly Baghdadi Jews. In the heyday of the Jewish settlement in Kolkata the community was 6,000 strong. The community declined in numbers after the formation of the Jewish state of Israel. At present there are fewer than 100 Jews in Kolkata.

History[edit]

During the British rule in India, Kolkata was a thriving metropolis, the capital of British India and the commercial hub of India. It attracted numerous trading communities including the Jews. The first recorded Jewish immigrant to Kolkata was Shalom Aharon Obadiah Cohen, who arrived in Kolkata in 1798. Cohen was born in Aleppo in present-day Syria in 1762. He arrived in Surat in the year 1792 and established himself as a trader before moving to Kolkata. In 1805, his nephew Moses Simon Duek Ha Cohen arrived in Kolkata. He married his eldest daughter Lunah. In the early nineteenth century the Baghdadi Jews began to settle in large numbers in Kolkata, thus outnumbering the Jews from Aleppo. While the city had a sizable Jewish community for many years, due to emigration it had shrunk down to about 700 people by 1969.[1]

Culture[edit]

The first generation of Jewish settlers in Kolkata spoke Judeo-Arabic at home and adhered to their Arabic style of costumes. The next generation of Jews adopted European dress and lifestyle and English as their language of communication.

There is Jewish cemetery at Narkeldanga Main Road, Narkeldanga and another private cemetery at U.C.Banerjee Road.

Synagogues[edit]

Magen David Synagogue in Kolkata
Interiors in Magen David Synagogue, Kolkata
Genizah at Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

The Jewish community has five independent synagogues in Kolkata, out of which two are in use. The first synagogue, now known as the Old Synagogue, was built by Shalome David Cohen.[2] In 1825, Ezekiel Judah built the Neveh Shalom Synagogue on Canning Street. It was rebuilt in 1911. In 1856, David Joseph Ezra and Ezekiel Judah built the Beth El Synagogue on Pollock Street. It was rebuilt and extended in 1886 by Elias Shalom Gubbay.[2] In 1884, Elias David Joseph Ezra built the Magen David Synagogue in memory of his father David Joseph Ezra. To visit the synagogues, a permission is required from the communal affairs office at the Jewish Girls' School.

Jewish Cemetery[edit]

The Jewish Cemetery in Kolkata is located on 45, Narkeldanga Main Road,Kolkata - 700011. The first recorded death in the Kolkata Jewish community was Moses de Pas, an emissary from Safad, now in Israel, who died in Kolkata in 1812.[3]

Notable persons[edit]

  • David Joseph Ezra
  • David Elias Ezra
  • Rachel Ezra, wife of David Elias Ezra and daughter of Solomon David Sassoon
  • Elias David Ezra
  • Elias Moses Duek Cohen, Publisher of The Jewish Gazette
  • Shalome Aaron Cohen
  • Shalome Obadiah Ha-Cohen, Founder of the Calcutta Jewish community
  • Moses Duek Cohen, Son-in-Law of Shalome Obadiah Ha-Cohen
  • J. F. R. Jacob, Indian Army Lieutenant General
  • David Haskell Cohen, Journalist and Editor
  • Rev. David Hai Jacob Cohen
  • Aaron Curlender, Businessman
  • Benjamin Nissim Elias, Businessman
  • Hacham Twena, Religious Scholar
  • Maurice Arthur Shellim
  • David Mordecai, Photographer
  • Eddie Joseph, Magician
  • Bernard Jacob, Calcutta Symphony Orchestra
  • Gauhar Jaan (Angelina Yeoward), Indian singer and dancer
  • Samuel Solomon, Indian Civil Servant who campaigned to bring an end to people’s widespread addiction to opium
  • Joe Solomon, Jewish Samson of India
  • David Jacob Cohen, Jewish Member of the Bengal Legislative Council
  • (Hakham) Ezra Reuben David Barook, a High Priest in Jerusalem in 1856. He travelled to India and settled in Calcutta.
  • Ramah Luddy, Principal of the Jewish Girls' School, Calcutta, Zionist, Worked for St. John's Ambulance
  • Hannah Sen, Founder Member of the Lady Irwin College, New Delhi, alumnus of the Jewish Girls School, noted public figure and social worker
  • Regina Guha, First Jewish Principal of the Girls' School, first Lady Lawyer in the Community
  • Matilda Cohen, first graduate from Bethune School
  • Iris Moses, Principal of Sir Romesh Mitter School in Calcutta, MSc BT in Geography, Organized the Girls' Guide Movement in England
  • Sally Lewis Meyer, Teacher of Botany at Bethune College, Calcutta (1937–1959), educated in Taxonomy at Kew Gardens, England, founder-member of the Zionist youth group Habonim
  • Ezra Arakie, barrister and Cambridge graduate, educationist, founder-member of the Elias Meyer Free School and Talmud Torah
  • Aaron Joseph Curlender, Philanthropist
  • Aaron Toric Rodney Neville Zacahriah, Group Captain in the Indian Air Force
  • Sonny Solomon, Flying Officer in the RAF, killed during mission over Nazi Germany, 1945
  • Lt. David Ezra, British Indian Army, Killed in Malaya
  • Manny Elias, Musician
  • Gerry Judah, Artist
  • Arati Devi (Rachel Sofaer), Indian silent film actress
  • Ezra Mir (Edwyn Meyers), Indian film-maker
  • Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham), Indian actress and winner of the first Miss India pageant
  • Rubeigh James Minney, Novelist, playwright, biographer and film producer, Descendant of Elias Moses Duek Cohen
  • Solomon Bekhor, Calcutta Theatre
  • Emanuel Raphael Belilios, Businessman in Hong Kong
  • Manasseh Meyer, Leader and benefactor of the Jewish community in Singapore

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Jewish Community of Calcutta". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  2. ^ a b "Calcutta". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. 1906. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  3. ^ "Jewish Calcutta". Retrieved 24 January 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Elias Flower and Judith Cooper Elias: The Jews of Calcutta: Autobiography of a Community 1792–1947, Calcutta
  • Shalva Weil Ed: India's Jewish Heritage, Ritual, Art and Life Cycle, Marg Publishers, Mumbai
  • Jael Silliman: Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women's Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope, Seagull, Calcutta; Brandeis, 2003, ISBN 1584653051
  • Dalia Ray: Calcutta's Jewish Heritage, Minerva, Calcutta
  • Kaustav Chakrabarti: Glimpses into the Jewish World of Calcutta 1798–1948, Readers Service, Kolkata
  • Mavis Hyman: Jews of the Raj, Bristol, UK
  • Sally Solomon Luddy: Hooghly Tales
  • Nathan Katz Ed: Who are the Jews of India? University of California Press, 2000

External links[edit]