The 2,200-year history of India’s Bene Israel Jews

#1 Sep 30th, 2017, 23:00
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The 2,200-year history of India’s Bene Israel Jews began with seven ship-wrecked couples
A new book examines the community’s heritage and origins through a series of stunning photographs.


Quote:
Kenneth Robbins, a South Asian art collector who has documented several expatriate communities in India, and Pushkar Sohoni, a specialist in the Islamic architectural traditions of the Deccan, have teamed up with Surendra Kumar, a photographer specialising in topographic panoramas, to produce a compact yet exquisite guide book on the rich Jewish heritage of the Deccan.

While there are now several books on the Bene Israeli and Baghdadi Jewish heritage of Mumbai that are more extensive in terms of research and even visual documentation, Robbins and Sohoni’s Jewish Heritage of the Deccan: Mumbai, The Northern Konkan and Pune combines luminous photography and brief commentary.

It is a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to take the few days necessary to explore Mumbai, a few villages in the Northern Konkan and a visit to Pune to witness the rich history of the Jewish presence in this region.

Origin story

The Marathi-speaking Bene Israelis lived in the villages and towns of the Konkan coast for hundreds of years. Their lore traces their history to seven couples being ship-wrecked off the Konkan coast at Navgaon some 2,200 years ago, when Jews faced persecution by the Seleucids in Palestine. The minuscule number of Bene Israelis in these villages assumed names indicating their places of residence by adding the suffix kar to their village names.

The Bene Israelis were called Shanivar telis (Saturday oil pressers in Marathi) because, in accordance with Jewish ritual practice, they did not work on the Sabbath.

In the 18th century, they emigrated to Mumbai, Thane and Pune seeking service in the British administration and army and the community became financially successful. They held military and administrative positions while living under the control of various regimes, including the Portuguese, the Marathas, the Siddis as well as the British. The Portuguese controlled the towns of the Northern Konkan where they lived, such as Navgaon, Alibag, Revdanda and Korlai, until the Marathas seized them at the end of the 17th century only to be overcome by the British.

Though Baghdadi Jews were engaged in trade during the Abbasid Caliphate from the 8th to 10th centuries and travelled by ship and overland to India for trading purposes, a few Jews from Baghdad and other port cities of the Middle East came to settle in Mumbai in the late 18th century. The most famous and wealthy of the Baghdadi Jews was the Sassoon dynasty. They profited from the opium trade with China, and later benefited from selling Indian cottons to the Lancashire mills, when the supply of American cotton was disrupted during the 1860s.

Quote:
The Sassoons owned factories, the Sassoon dockyards and were involved in the administrative apparatus of the city. They were also philanthropists who built synagogues, monuments, and endowed public institutions in Bombay and Pune that remain important urban landmarks.

As the book is organised around three geographical areas – Bombay and its suburbs, the villages of the Northern Konkan and Pune – the landmarks of both Bene Israel and Bagdadis are presented together in each section. The most substantive section relates to Mumbai and its suburbs that boasts many double-leaf photographs of synagogues that belong to both communities, graveyards, statues, mansions and other public buildings.

As the location of the 19th century city was the southern part of today’s metropolis, there is a concentration of early Jewish sites and monuments there. These include the Gateway of India as Sir Jacob Elias Sassoon donated one third of its cost, and the Sassoon Docks, one of the oldest port projects in the city. The David Sassoon Library and Reading Hall, built by Albert Sassoon in memory of his father in High Victorian, neo-Gothic style is a city landmark.

There are glorious pictures of the Knesset Eliyahoo snagogue, also known as the Fort Synagogue, built by the Sassoons. Constructed in 1884, it has Minton floor ceramic tiles imported from Stoke-on-Trent, gorgeous stained glass windows and elaborately designed Burmese teak wood furnishings.
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Last edited by aarosh; Oct 1st, 2017 at 00:52..
#2 Oct 1st, 2017, 00:40
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Went right by this library and never understood its significance. Thanks A..
#3 Oct 1st, 2017, 00:49
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Very interesting.
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#4 Oct 1st, 2017, 03:49
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thank you aarosh,as it was our day of "Yom Kippur" or Day of Atonement today (written after the end of the fast ). Nice to read the article at appropriate time, we are now in between the Jewish new year, Yom Kippur and Succoth
Some more: Bene Israel of Mumbai, India from the the Museum of jewish people.
Study Finds Genetic Connection Between Indian Bene Israel and Middle Eastern Jews
article from Haaretz newspaper.
Magen Avraham synagogue Ahamadebad Photo by Emanuel Dyan
Been to Mumbai and to the Beit Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue and the David Sassoon Library.
My Photos:
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#5 Oct 1st, 2017, 03:58
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You are welcome dcamrass1. I read this article a few days ago and found it interesting. Also I had been to Alibaug specifically to see the synagogue mentioned in the article. I delayed posting the article since I had put up the photo of the synagogue some where else.

I might go to Revas in the near future and see the synagogue there.

I also had been to the cemetery in Chinchpokli. The land was donated by Sassoon and it has the tombs of a couple of his family members. I had posted that structure as a puzzle in the Where Was The Photo Taken 2 thread.
Last edited by aarosh; Oct 1st, 2017 at 14:05..
#6 Oct 1st, 2017, 04:02
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The 2,200-year history of India’s Bene Israel Jews

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Originally Posted by dcamrass1 View Post Been to Mumbai and to the Beit Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue and the David Sassoon Library.
I have seen that synagogue. If I am not mistaken that is located behind the now shut Rhythm House.
#7 Oct 1st, 2017, 04:05
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Originally Posted by aarosh View Post I have seen that synagogue. If I am not mistaken that is located behind the now shut Rhythm House.
It is.
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#8 Oct 1st, 2017, 04:11
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Just added 2 photos. If remember in the street was a market and had to lift our eyes up to find it, hope not muddled up.
#9 Oct 1st, 2017, 04:15
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I also remember seeing a prayer hall in Kurla (W). While on official work I had got down at Kurla and was walking towards CST road I saw that structure. There were a few policemen standing there whose presence deterred from taking snaps of the place.

Read http://indianjews.org/en/research/je...la-prayer-hall
#10 Oct 1st, 2017, 04:39
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We were in Mumbai just after the terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal hotel hotel and the Habbad centre, had disstressing (not sure if it is the right word) talking to a tailor who's brother was killed at the Habbad building.
The authotities were very worried about our welfare being from Israel. A sad time indeed.
#11 Oct 1st, 2017, 08:46
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I lived in Bombay for 17 years, but am finding out things I never knew only now, thanks to aarosh.
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#12 Oct 1st, 2017, 13:45
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Originally Posted by capt_mahajan View Post I lived in Bombay for 17 years, but am finding out things I never knew only now
I am still finding out places / sites in Mumbai that I have never heard of.

I am yet to see Mahim and Worli fort though I have been in their vicinity in the past. Not yet been to Kotachiwadi. I am sure there would be many more places that I have not heard of.
#13 Oct 1st, 2017, 21:42
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Originally Posted by aarosh View Post ...Not yet been to Kotachiwadi...

I'd get to Kotachiwadi sooner rather than later. We were there ten years ago, and already a great deal had been lost, with new construction crowding in and spoiling the atmosphere. We talked briefly with one resident who bemoaned the fact that the fine old building just across the lane from her house had been sold and would be pulled down, and some new high rise would soon come up in its place.

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distaff adds a note from wikipedia that there used to be 65 of the old Portuguese houses and now there are only 28.
#14 Oct 1st, 2017, 21:50
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Originally Posted by hfot2 View Post I'd get to Kotachiwadi sooner rather than later.
I do know that Khotachiwadi's days are numbered now.

It would be sad if all the owners sell their house to builders who will redevelop them.
#15 Oct 1st, 2017, 23:17
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#15
Quote:
Originally Posted by aarosh View Post I have seen that synagogue. If I am not mistaken that is located behind the now shut Rhythm House.
The Synagogue is on the road perpendicular to Trishna's.



OT

Quote:
Originally Posted by aarosh View Post I do know that Khotachiwadi's days are numbered now.

I would be sad if all the owners sell their house to builders who will redevelop them.
You'd better go before it vanishes, like Anantashram did.


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Last edited by ViShVa; Oct 2nd, 2017 at 04:30..

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