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Since the destruction of the Second Temple, India is “the safest Jewish community all over the world.”

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The 140 year old Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai has been recently renovated and is a crown jewel of Jewish life in India (Photo: supplied)

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My name is Daniel David from Mumbai in India. I am a 31 years old student of 2nd year LLB (law) and freelance Jewish tour guide for the city. 

I belong to the Bene Israel Jewish community of India. My forefathers, who used to trade with India about rice, wheat and other products, migrated here before the destruction of the 2nd Holy Temple of Jerusalem and we can see the reference of this in the books of Solomon too. Currently numbering about 5000, we are the safest Jewish community all over the world, who lived here without any antisemitism or any persecutions. 

My community, who originally settled to the seacoast region in south of Maharastra, originally adopted oil pressers, making and selling the oil and because it was a Saturday (Shabbat) observant community this later has become a tradition here not to purchase oil or do any shopping on Saturday. Until today you see the locals are following this tradition.

After the arrival of Britishers who brought modern education, Jews were the first ones to give education to their children and were eligible for government jobs such as railway, post office and other positions. This gave opportunities to settle in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Karachi and other cities and that is how the Jewish community went to all these places and built the synagogues in these communities and have always been progressive and respected due to many reasons.

In the early 1800 and 1900 we saw the arrival of the Bagdadi Jewish community to the cities of Bombay and Calcutta. In particular the Sassoons were one of the most prominent and wealthiest families in India. They established oil mills and later became the largest mill owners and went into large scale businesses. (Mr. Solomon Sopher currently leads their legacy of 14 different charitable trusts.)

They established various schools, colleges, education institutions, hospitals and contributed towards British India through various developments and each generation of the family expanded their business overseas like Sanghai, Hong Kong, London, and South Africa.

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They were crucial to the building of the Magen David Synagogue (160 years old). It is located in the premises of the Sir Jacob Sassoon high school and Sassoon guest house for Jewish travellers. It is one of the most active synagogues for religious services – even in the Covid era, this synagogue had regular morning and evening prayer services when the entire nation was under strict lockdown. 

The Magen David Synagogue at the junction of Brabourne Road and Canning Street in Kolkata, Mumbai, India (photo: supplied)

We are also proud of the recently renovated Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue (140 years old), where the local Mumbai government decided to rename the street after the former Israeli Prime Minister as “Shimon Peres Chowk (lane)”. It is located near the most prime location of the city where  5 star hotels and corporate offices are located; during Shabbat services many Jewish travellers (tourists, students, businessmen) are here for the religious services and a kosher meal.

Recently, the street in front of the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai was renamed in honour of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Photo: supplied)

In the south of Kerala, in the city of Cochin, we are a small community which migrated from Spain and Portugal. We were mostly here by 1600 and were a prosperous community and have made major contributions in various educational fields.

There has been large contributions of doctors, lawyers, engineers; the country’s most ancient and most beautiful synagogue – 550 years old – is a UNESCO world heritage site, having a unique structure. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and many famous personalities have visited this place.

Many of the lost tribes are discovered in India – in Lucknow in the northeast of India there is a group of Muslim Pathans (Pashtuns) claiming to be Jewish and part of the Bene Eprahim commuity. Dr. Navras Afridi has his story to share about this north group who migrated here during the Biblical era. This group exists in Kashmir near the Pakistan border where they light a candle on Friday and sacrifice goats (which is read in the Musaf ceremony of Shabbat here.)

The magnificent interior of the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, an Orthodox synagogue located in downtown Mumbai, India (Photo: supplied)

Regarding the current affairs since March 2020, India had a strict lockdown due to which many had a difficult time specially the senior citizens. A few had a Covid positive and unfortunately were not able to survive. The community was not sure what was to be done in the earlier stages as, per instructions by the medical department, Covid-infected bodies were supposed to be cremated. Leaders of the community made traditional Jewish burial possible with precautions of limited people last rituals were conducted. 

The most unfortunate news was a rabbi from Israel, who had been here to conduct prayers for Magen David Synagogue, passed away of Covid in London after a long struggle. Rabbi Yakov Menashe was the spiritual leader of the community.

Many businesses have been affected and so many lost their jobs during the pandemic. During High Holidays a few number of youngsters went to synagogue and conducted prayers wherever possible. My dad is the voluntary chazzan and shoeket for the community and we have kosher food service available.  If you ask about good news there have been a few marriages and few families made Aliyah to Israel.

Chabad has been doing amazing activities for the community and Jewish tourists in India. You see chabad centres in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Rishikesh, Banaras and many more where Israelis and Jewish visitors get the best opportunity for the Shabbat and kosher restaurants and holy experience in Mumbai. They have their synagogue, restaurant, school, regular activities for the community and events during the festival and many more.  This included online prayers whenever it was possible- on Tisha B’av I attended online with them.

I want to mention, of course, the Global Jewish Pen Pal Program, with our personal stories being seen in TheJ.ca. With pen pals, we are connected online on various Jewish activities, and we are looking forward to having the Purim programme that will be online and meeting friends there once again. To sign up and be matched with a Jewish pen pal, click here to complete the form.

Daniel David is a law student in his second year of studies. He is your freelance Jewish tour guide for Mumbai, India.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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