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Browse Exhibits : 23

09 Jewish cemetery in Calcutta, Narkeldanga

Legend goes that Shalome Cohen, the first settler, felt responsible for the wellbeing and welfare of the community. He decided to buy a plot of land to be ear-marked for the cemetery. He asked his friends and business associates for a suitable place. A Bengali business associate took him to an open paddy field on the outskirts of Calcutta and asked if it would be suitable for the purpose.  Shalome was delighted and asked him how much it would cost.  The magnanimous gentleman gifted it to him. Shalome said he would have to pay for it as this was going to be a religious site.  The gentleman told him to pay him what he liked. Shalome took off his gold ring in return and thanked him profusely. The first recorded death in the community was of Moses de Pas, an emissasry from Safad, now in Israel. It is assumed that his death led to the establishment of the cemetery. His grave is no longer traceable. The first reported death in the community was in 1812. There is also a geniza at the cemetery. A small private cemetery that was opened in the 1870’s and closed after 20 years or so. It lies half a mile from the main cemetery at 45 Narkeldanga Main Road. There are lists of graves in the cemetery which have been documented here under a separate subsection.

10 Synagogues in Calcutta

David Cohen built the first synagogue in Calcutta, known as the Old Synagogue. There are currently three synagogues in Calcutta: Neveh Shalome, is situated in Canning street. It was rebuilt nearly a century ago by Ezekiel Judah Jacob, another Jewish pioneer. Its compound is now occupied by the Maghen David synagogue, whose founder, Elias David Joseph Ezra compensated the Neveh Shalome by a permanent income from a trust fund. The Beth-El, on Pollock street, was erected in 1855-56 by Joseph Ezra and Ezekiel Judah. Previously there were 2 prayer halls as well, Sha'areh Rasone and Beth-ha-kneset. This exhibit contains the history, photos and memorabilia about the synagogues.

To see a film on the Maghen David Synagogue and the Beth El please visit our Film Gallery or click here.

Note: Previously a permission was required from Nahoum's Cake Shop at the New Market, to visit the Synagogues. Presently permission can be obtained from Ms A M Cohen, General Secretary, Jewish Community Affairs from the Jewish Girls School, Kolkata

11 Social and Cultural Life

The Jewish community had a rich social and cultural life in Calcutta. This exhibit features some of the most cherished Jewish outings and pastimes, as well as memories of their favourite vacation spots. It includes references to the Judean Club which was an important part of Jewish community life in the Twentieth century.

To see a film on horse racing in Calcutta, visit our Film Gallery or click here.

12 Jewish Rituals

The Baghdadi Jewish community was conservative and deeply religious. Their rituals and traditions were brought with them and they followed the liturgy of Baghdad which is why they were called "Baghdadi Jews". This exhibit presents some of the ritual items they used as well as some of their religious ceremonies.

13 Weddings

This exhibit features photographs of Jewish weddings which were glamorous affairs. There are descriptions of the traditional Arabic wedding, as well as images of brides from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Documents related to the weddings, like Ketubas, marriage certificates and invitation cards have been represented under separate sub-sections.

The last Jewish wedding in Calcutta, of Esther Hazarika and Errol Jacob, has also been documented here with photographs.

14 Music in Jewish Calcutta

Calcutta Jews in the twentieth century were very interested in Western music and contributed both to classical as well as popular music. 

This exhibit features the music of the community recorded from Rivers of Babylon.

It also features the ritual chants, documented, recorded and chanted by Rabbi Musleah.

15 Calcutta Jewish Cuisine

A note on Jewish cooking, and a collection of recipes of Jewish cooking from Calcutta. These recipes are taken from Flower Silliman's Three Cups of Flower, and Mavis Hyman's book Indian Jewish Cooking.

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

17 War years and Military Service

Many Jewish community members served in the British Army. World War II was a very significant event for the community. It brought many Jewish refugees from Europe and Burma to Calcutta. Many Jewish troops from the Allied forces were stationed in Calcutta, which also altered the contours of the community.

This exhibit has a few images of Jewish engagement in the World Wars; essays remembering the War Years and its impact on the community; and the memories of the European Jews in Calcutta. 

18 Documents, Reports and Printing

The first Hebrew printing press in Calcutta was founded in 1840 by Eleazar B. Aaron Saadiah Irāqī ha-Cohen and continued until 1856. A scholar and poet, Irāqī was an expert printer who probably cast his own type. The products of his press, some of them his own writings, are comparable with the best European productions of the time. Another press, operated by Ezekiel B. Saliman Hanin from 1871 to 1893, printed the Judeo-Arabic weekly Mevasser in Hebrew type from 1873 to 1878. This paper was followed by Pera (1878–88), printed from 1871 by Elijah b. Moses Duek ha-Cohen. Two further weeklies, Maggid Meisharim (1889–1900) and Shoshannah (1901), were edited and printed by R. Solomon Twena, author of almost 70 works published by his own press.

In this exhibit we present some documents and legal cases associated with Jewish life in Calcutta.