Israel ambassador to rededicate synagogues
Published: December 17, 2017 5:02 am
Israel’s ambassador to India Daniel Carmon will be in Kolkata on Sunday along with Israel’s former prime minister and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres’s daughter Zvia Valdan and a host of other dignitaries to “rededicate the Beth El and Magen David synagogues’’ — two of Kolkata’s oldest synagogues, which have recently been restored. The Jewish community first arrived in Kolkata from the middle east in 1798, and was involved in development of trade and commerce. The community was involved in jute mills, sugar mills, setting up of the national tobacco company, real estate and finance institutions.
“The Jewish community in Kolkata is perceived as a dying community. To an extent, it is true. The numbers have dwindled over the past few decades and now there are just 30 of us left in the city. At its height, the community had 5,000 members in the city. Then the migration started in the late 1950s and 60s with Jews shifting to America, Isreal, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and other places,” said president and trustee of Beth El synagogue David R Ashkenazy.
Kolkata’s two main synagogues — Beth El and Magen David — were constructed in 1856 and 1884, respectively. The restoration of the synagogues began in 2015 and restoration architects and experts, who had worked on other Indian monuments, were brought to Kolkata from Delhi and Lucknow. Artisans and craftsmen were hired from Rajasthan and West Bengal as well.
“The synagogues had become dilapidated and were in a very bad condition which is why the restoration had become urgent. But there is another reason behind this project. In Kolkata, where so many of us lived for so many years, there is all the infrastructure present for the Jewish community to become a vibrant community once more. There are three synagogues, a cemetery and two Jewish schools— one for girls and one for boys. This is essentially what any community needs,” Ashkenazy said.
“The idea is the revival of the Jewish community in Kolkata… We want to get the message out there that Kolkata is an ideal place for the community,” added Ashkenazy. This is the reason why, he said, the community will soon start a programme inviting young Jewish people from across the world to come and live in Kolkata for a selected period of time.