Pune's Bene Israel Community Gears Up To Celebrate Republic Day

With the Republic Day just around the corner, the office-bearers of the Succath Shelomo Synagogue are busy urging the minuscule population of this Jewish community to come forward to celebrate the occasion on January 26.

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Pune's Bene Israel Community Gears Up To Celebrate Republic Day

The synagogue was built about 98 years ago by the Marathi-speaking Bene Israel community.


Pune:  Notwithstanding its dwindling numbers, the Bene Israel community takes pride in being "Indian" and hoists the tricolour on the Republic Day and the Independence Day to express its "sense of patriotism".

And with the Republic Day just around the corner, the office-bearers of the Succath Shelomo Synagogue are busy urging the minuscule population of this Jewish community to come forward to celebrate the occasion on January 26.

The synagogue was built about 98 years ago by the Marathi-speaking Bene Israel community in one of the narrow lanes of Rasta Peth, also known as the Jews Lane, in the heart of the city.

The community members claim it to be the only synagogue in the country which regularly hoists the Indian flag on both the Independence Day and the Republic Day.

"Ours is the only synagogue in the country which celebrates the Independence Day and the Republic Day at the vintage premises and we come together to hoist the Indian tricolour on these two occasions," the synagogue's secretary, Yosef Nowgaonkar, said.

He said the community members in the city are originally from the Konkan region. They were employed in the military as well as the administrative services of the erstwhile princely states.

"But in the 19th century, we started migrating to cities like Pune and Mumbai and other parts of the country," Mr Nowgaonkar said.

Earlier, Pune was home to a large number of Bene Israelis, but as many of the community members started moving to Israel and other countries, their population in the city started dwindling rapidly, he said.

"There are just about 100 households left in the city with a total population of not more than 300," he said.

"Nowadays, the younger generation is actually drifting away from the synagogues and religious activities like prayers and other rituals. They hardly come for the morning or the evening prayers," Mr Nowgaonkar rued.

He said the tradition of hoisting the tricolour atop the synagogue dates back to 1947 when India got independence.

"Since then, we have been keeping the tradition alive. We are Indians and celebrate these two days with a great sense of patriotism," he said.

The synagogue is now spreading a word through social media and also making phone calls, urging the community members to come and celebrate the Republic Day.

Daniel Penkar, the president of the synagogue for last 14 years, said they hoist the national flag on January 26 and August 15 at the premises without fail.

"When there was a considerable Bene Israel population in Pune, the attendance used to be good. Besides patriotism and being Indians, the other objective to celebrate both the days is to bring the community together and maintain bonding among the members," Mr Penkar said.

George Judah, a retired Indian Air Force officer and former director at a reputed educational institute in Pune, also served as the president of the synagogue earlier.

"We celebrate both the days with great zeal. A senior member of the community hoists the flag and later we allow people to speak on the occasion," Mr Judah said.

"We Israelis migrated to Indian 2,700 years back and we are truly Indians," he said.

He said besides the Bene Israel people in India having a good synergy among themselves, they also have good relations with those who have moved to Israel.

"Infact, both the countries share a good rapport and bonhomie and it was quite evident during the recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," he said.

Irene Judah, the author of 'Evolution of the Bene Israelis and their Synagogues in the Konkan', said there are nearly 300 synagogues in the Konkan area.

The Bene Israel people first landed in the coastal region of Maharashtra centuries back, she said. 


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