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Browse Exhibits : 24

Map of Jewish Calcutta

This map has been prepared to illustrate "Jewish Calcutta" - that is, the areas where the Jewish community primarily lived and worked. It highlights the key community institutions and some of the sites that are noted in the archive.

00 A Visual History of the Community

This set of 30 posters forms a pictorial history of the Jewish Community of Calcutta and the various memories, people, luminaries, events and institutions that form a part of it. 

01 Film Gallery

The audio and films for this section have all been recently shot in Calcutta. We drew on the handful of people that are still here to talk about Jewish Calcutta, so they could share their memories. Cyril Cohen and Aaron Harazi, two of the most elderly in the community, were interviewed and filmed. They spoke of their school days and work life when the community was thriving. We filmed in the synagogues and the Jewish Girls' School. We wanted to showcase the magnificent synagogues and also give the viewers a clear sense of how they are situated today. The synagogues are on busy commercial streets and no longer in use, and matzah-s are no longer made in Calcutta. There has not been a Jewish girl in the Jewish Girls' School for about 40 years, but the school still thrives and provides its students with a sound education. Minati De, whose husband worked at the National Tobacco factory speaks about what it was like to live as part of a Jewish community. Flower Silliman cooks some of the favorite dishes of the Calcutta Jewish community. A shoot at the racecourse with Elijah Twena, an avid racer, speaks of how racing was a well-loved pastime among the Jewish community. Ayal Joshua has contributed a video he has made about his search for his past in Calcutta. News report on Rajya Sabha TV provides a 30-minute overview on the history of the community. Raz Joshua, (living in Florida now), performs Haggadah blessings using traditional chants and rites from Kolkata during a Passover celebration. A video made by his friend, shows general JFR Jacob reading his favorite poetry. A short film, "Mukti" provides a glimpse into JFR Jacob's role in capturing Dhaka during Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. World famous Kolkata-born sculptor Gerry Judah talks about "Bengal" piece through which he revisits his homeland and raises awareness about the climate change.  Today one must search for “Jewish Calcutta”, that for the most part, has been consumed by the City. A trailer of Shalom Bollywood introduces audience to the story of Jewish movie stars who were crucial in the forming years of Bollywood. A short feature by 101 India talks about the present and the past of Calcutta's Jews and interviews some of the last members of the community.

02 A Novel Experience

There are three novels, Flowers in the Blood by Gay Courter, The Man With Many Hats by Jael Silliman, and The Teak Almirah by Jael Silliman that are set in Calcutta. Flowers in the Blood is set in Calcutta in the mid nineteenth century, and The Man With Many Hats in the twentieth century. The Teak Almirah is set in contemporary Calcutta and takes the reader for a nostalgic trip in search of Jewish Calcutta.

Another novel connected to Jewish community of Calcutta is “House of Wives” written by Simon Choa-Johnston loosely based upon his great grand-father, Emanuel Raphael Belilios “the foremost opium merchant in Hongkong in the 1880s.”  Emanuel Belilios was a Jewish Opium merchant from Calcutta.

Bem Le Fonte's There, Where the Pepper Grows is a novel about Polish Jewish refugees who escaped occupied Poland and arrived in Calcutta after a journey across Asia.

There is also a play that is set in the Calcutta Jewish community, entitled Calcutta Kosher, written by Shelley Silas, and directed by Janet Steele. The plot revolved around Mozelle whose two daughters return to Calcutta to be at her side when she is old and in critical health. It was staged in London by Kali Theater in 2007.

 

03 Notable Members of and from the Community

This exhibit represents those who were leaders in the Jewish community. These include the founders, the members who were active in Jewish community affairs, civic leaders, philanthropists, well known personalities, as well as religious leaders. Jews also served in the military and other state institutions. For example General JFR Jacob rose to be Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. Josh Solomon served in the police for many years and was in charge of police force in Darjeeling. Among the personalities represented are those who left Calcutta, and settled down in other countries.
Among remarkable persons are artists such as Gerry Judah and Eddie Joseph rose to be the best in the world in their respective fields: sculpture & design and magic. Businessmen such as BN Elias and Emmanuel Belilios built vast trading and industrial empires and amassed great wealth.

To sum up, Calcutta's Jewish community gave the world plenty of exceptionally talented and hard-working people who left many marks around the world. It is important to preserve the memory about them and display their stories.

There were also many women pioneers who have been represented in another section, as are those who were in the media.

04 Women Pioneers

Jewish women were well-educated and played important roles in their families and in the community. Many were professionals and were highly trained in numerous fields. They competed in sports and were active in political affairs. Hannah Sen, a lawyer, rose to be a prominent nationalist and one of the leaders of the Indpendence Struggle. With her sister, Regina Guha, they blazed a trail for Indian women into legal profession. Women such as Ramah Luddy, Ramah Musleah organized and run Jewish schools and other social institutions and rose to prominence as community leaders. Tabitha Solomon was the first woman dentist in India.

05 Film Personalities and Others in the Public Gaze

The cinema was a very popular pastime among the Jewish community. Theater and acting were popular among men and women. As Indian women were mostly not allowed to act in film and as the Jewish community was less conservative than their Indian counterpart, a few Jewish women joined the film industry in its formative period. Pramila, (a screen name for Esther Victoria Abraham), followed steps of her cousin Romila became an movie and fashion icon and defined glam in the formative years of Bollywood. Among many honors, she won the first Miss India pageant. Pramila's daughter, Naqui Jaan became Miss India  1967. Her son, Haider Ali became a famous screenwriter and a cinema persona. One of his most memorable movie performances was that in Khwaja Mere Khwaja. Solomon Bekhor in his youth was very active in the sphere of the theater. With his college friends he founded "The Amateur Shakespearean", about which he wrote a captivating memoir Ezra Mir, one of the foremost documentary film-makers of India was also from the Jewish community. Ezra made hundreds of documentaries, newsreels and broadcasts. For his outstanding merits, he was awarded Padma Shri in 1970. Nancy Nevinson was a British film and TV actress with Calcutta roots.

06 Community Portraits

A selection of photographs and stories representing the community throughout their sojourn in Calcutta and abroad. Pictures from several family albums show the members of the community and provide a fascinating insight into community's family life, everyday events, and the memories from Calcutta.

 

07 Jewish business in Calcutta

The Jewish community was primarily a business community. There were Jewish industrialists like the Ezra family, Jewish landlords as well as many in medium and small scale businesses. Some of the businesses are featured and notes on large, medium and small businesses are provided.

Some of the businesses were among the Calcutta's biggest and most flourishing, such as the BN Elias' enterprises or the National Tobacco Company. Among them, there were numerous small companies such as bakeries, hair studios, import-export companies or tea-coffee stores. Their prosperity was built on hard-working ethos of the Jewish commmunity.

To see a film on this section visit our Film Gallery or click here.

Sandeep Roy, Calcutta-based NPR correspondent gives a taste of Nahoum's Bakery - the city's last Jewish-owned business in his radio dispatch. Listen here

08 Homes, Mansions and Official Buildings

This exhibit presents a cross-section, with images, of the homes, mansions, landmarks and commercial buildings of the Jews in Calcutta.