Thursday, 12 March 2020

Magen David Synagogue, Byculla, Mumbai, India -one of the oldest synagogues in India, now enovated

Interior. Magen David Synagogue, Byculla, Mumbai, India.atlasobscura.com

Magen David Synagogue, Byculla, Mumbai, India www.ijn.com/

Established way back in 1864 in Byculla,  a suburb of Bombay (now Mumbai), the orthodox Sephardi Synagogue called  Magen David Synagogue  is one of the oldest places of worship for Baghdadi Jews  who faced horrible hardship and persecution  when  the governor and Wali of Baghdad Dawud Pasha was at the 
Magen David Synagogue, Byculla, Mumbai, India  atlasobscura.com

helm.  Being intolerant, Pasha  turned the heat on this quiet community over there and, on account of continuous  persecution, more Jewish people migrated  from West Asia to the west coast of India  where living condition was amenable to them. Under the ''Raj'' many of them became successful traders and had a close rapport with the British as well as the local  rich Marwari and Gujarat business communities. 
Magen David Synagogue, Mumbai, Indiatimesofisrael.com
One of the successful business men from the Jewish community was  David Sassoon.  The family first settled in 1832 when East India company was controlling part of the Indian subcontinent. Though he made lots of money when opium was secretly exported to China by the British, he later turned spiritual and  focused on charities for the benefits of common people. The Sassoons built hospitals, schools, colleges and libraries, not to mention the Sassoon Dock. The synagogue  built by David Sassoon,  in the later part of 19th century,  was not good enough for the increasing members during services and was extended  after 1910 with the help of Jacob, David Sassoon's grandson to host larger services for the congregation. Built  in Victorian style, it is said to be  one of the largest in Asia outside of Israel. It was in 2011 as part of its 150th anniversary celebration, this synagogue was renovated retaining its old charm and its heritage values.   Now bright blue colored, its facade  with enormous frontal columns, bright stained glass windows and the clock  tower  stands out well in this prime location.
old image.Magen David Synagogue, Mumbai, India atlasobscura.com
 On its sprawling grounds, are functioning two Jewish Schools  under Sir Jacob Sassoon High School Trust and the E.E.E. Sassoon High School Trust, and originally  they served most of the Baghdadi  Jews from the rich families of the  Colaba area, Mumbai  Later the schools  extended the educational services to other communities.


It is one of the functional synagogues in India, though lots of Indian Jews moved over to Israel.  In this bright  blue colored place of worship  daily morning services, Sabbath and Sabbath morning prayers are still  being conducted and a Shulchan breakfast (non-denominational) is served after. The synagogue is open to all religions; however,  members of the community are primarily Bene-Israel, Cochini or Baghdadi Jewish. The latter landed in India roughly 280 years ago.

 This  recently renovated  synagogue with refurbished brightly lit interior  and air-conditioned  prayer hall  sports a new look and now has a  fairly large number of Bene Israel worshipers but hardly any Baghdadi Jews.  The synagogue is well-preserved with
a raised platform - the taybah, from which the priest will conduct the prayer service at 6.30 p.m,  holy scrolls.The Rabbai from Israel  needs at least 10 members to conduct the service and all of them wear the head-gear - Kippah.

 Many of the Jews in India had moved with their  families to Israel for better prospects,  but some  of them  felt friendless and disoriented in the new environment, and  some returned to Mumbai after a brief stay there.  Like others, life is tough for them to start from the scratch in a strange foreign land.  Unlike Mumbai Jews, the Cochin Jews   have a historical legacy and were successful  traders in Kerala.
Tit-bits:
Exterior of Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogueen.wikipedia.org
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagoge in Mumbai (Bombay) .pinterest.com
01. It was the Sassoon family that   built the  famous  Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in 1884. Renovated  in the past, its  design and style is believed to be  a confluence of Jewish traditions and Indian and colonial influences. The architectural firm Gostling and Morris of Bombay designed and built it using stone and brick.  The beautiful stained glass window at the back filters light the bordered plant form  on both sides with richly  carved marble  give impressive look to the structure. 
02. As for  the Konkan coast, the Bene Israel community,  Bombay’s Marathi-speaking Jewry,  once formed the largest community in 1951 with  20,000 strong  members. But in trading and business, Baghdadi Jews established themselves well having better contact with the English. Most of them emigrated and got assimilated with western culture, but many retaining their Indian roots - the place that gave them the wealth and status in the society. 

03. Many of us may not  be aware that  Jews moved over to India long ago to avoid persecution  in the 2nd century when St Thomas visited the coastal Malabar area of Kerala and established the seven and half churches. ''The Cochin Jews are considered the oldest, continuously living Jewish community in the world. They began arriving from Judea, 2,500 years ago, on the Malabar Coast of India and settled as traders near the town of Cochin in what is now the southernmost India’s state of Kerala.'' ( https://www.ijn.com/the-worlds-oldest-jewish-community-is-in-india/).   The first wave probably arrived in 562 BCE following the destruction of the First Temple. The second wave likely came in 70 CE after the destruction of the Second Temple. Unlike Mumbai Jews, the Cochin Jews   have a historical legacy and were successful  traders in Kerala for a long time. They did face severe persecution in Kerala  when Goa, under the Portuguese rule introduced  violent Inquisition that was master-minded by Fr. Francis Xavier. Cochin Jews also built synagogues and emigrated to Israel after 1947   and their numbers in the Cochin area dwindled to less than 50. But they do visit this place once in a while.

04.  Now Jews are officially recognized as a minority community by India’s government.

05. But Mumbai’s oldest synagogue is the 230-year-old Gate of Mercy Synagogue. Also  known as Shaar-Ha-Rahamin,  it was built in 1796 by Samuel Ezekiel Divekar, a Bene Isreaeli. The Divekar brothers came to India as soldiers in the East India Company. Once they were captured by Tipu Sultan during Angelo Mysore Wars. Upon release, they settled in Bombay.

06. Hindus being tolerant as they are and as they were in the past, none of Indian languages have  words for  anti-Semitism'.   Lately Hindu communities across India express their deep concern and anxiety against certain religious groups who purposely engage in brain-washing and  religious conversion into their  faiths  by criticizing Hindu beliefs and by enticing gullible people.  The western people and media do not get the correct information about the social and religious  issues being faced by the cosmopolitan Hindus.
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/magen-david-synagogue
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magen_David_Synagogue_(Byculla)

https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/mumbais-last-minyans/article31008065.ece