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Jews-Muslims Bonhomie in Kolkata

Muslim families continue to protect heritage of Jewish Synagogue

 

By Shabana Javed

Kolkata, Nov. 20: Israel’s crimes against humanity in Gaza are continuing. The videos and photographs of crumbling buildings, wailing children and women have shocked the people the world over. Huge protests against Israel’s ethnic cleansing amounting to war crimes are being witnessed in towns and cities, university campuses and street corners across the world, demanding an end to Israel’s mindless bombing on Gaza. Despite all this shock and dismay, the Muslims here are continuing to protect the heritage of Jewish synagogue and the Jewish miniscule minority living in the city.

Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, also known as the City of Joy, is the capital of West Bengal, where people of different religions live together.

From Bengal to Kerala there was a large population of Jews. But in 1940s, their population started decreasing in India and today the number of Jews is among the smallest minority populations in India, 3,000 only. In Kolkata, the Jews established their houses of worship along with business. They also built educational institutions.

The Maghen David Synagogue and many of their other buildings at Ezra Street are being looked after by some Muslim families. This synagogue was built in Kolkata in 1856 by the Baghdadi Jewish community, which was one of the largest Jewish business communities in India. The area where this synagogue is located is known as Ezra Street, a densely populated Muslim area. It is said that the Jews settled down in the Muslim concentration areas of Kolkata.

Sirajuddin, who has been working in the Jewish synagogue for the past 25 years, said the Jews wanted to be close to Muslims because it was important for them to be with Muslims, as both the communities have similarities. “We both eat Halal meat,” he told Radiance. Sirajuddin’s father also used to work here.

Anwar, another person working here, says despite being Muslims we are the caretakers of Maghen David synagogue. “We have been working here for many years. A lot of people talk about the fact that we work at a Jewish synagogue but we have absolutely no problem with this. I have been working here since 2009; earlier my father worked here for around 40 years.”

Anwar said, “My father and elder brother still work in a synagogue. My grandfather used to take care of Beth El synagogue. We do cleaning and dusting of the synagogue twice a week; the area where they keep the holy book is called the Holy Ark; we are the only ones allowed to manage the place; only we have the key to the place.”

He continued, “Mrs Cohen is the head of three synagogues; she takes care of all our problems. She says there’s no conflict of religion from the point of view of religion between a Jew and a Muslim because we both trace our roots back to the same ancestor, Abraham. So, I can only say that what happened in other parts of the world is extremely unfortunate but here thank God we get on very well and will continue to do so.”

Anwar further said, “We offer our prayer outside the synagogue campus; when the owners come, they are pleased to see us performing our religious duty as well.”

Rabi Al, who works here, says he prays for the Palestinians in his prayers; tears also flow from his eyes because of the current situation in Palestine. But despite all this, they keep their family’s promises to the Jews.

While Rabbi Robert David Rifkin, who lives here, considers it important to respect Muslims in their places of worship. “We are here in a friendly environment and at the time when the situation between Israel and Palestine is going from bad to worse, Kolkata is presenting an example of humanity.”

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