Kolkata Could Be An Example For Those Locked In A Tussle Over Jerusalem

The Beth El synagogue and Maghen David, built in 1856 and 1884, respectively, have both been recently repaired and restored by Kolkata's Jewish community of about 25 - down from about 5,000 just after World War 2.

 Share
EMAIL
PRINT
COMMENTS

In Kolkata, synagogues where Jews worship are maintained by Muslim caretakers

Kolkata:  When India voted in the UN against the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, it could have cited Kolkata as an example to follow. In this city, synagogues where Jews worship are maintained by Muslim caretakers - the same two communities bitterly divided over Jerusalem and more. 

For Rabbi Robert David Rifkin, therefore, it was especially moving to rededicate Kolkata's Beth El synagogue on Pollock Street. A synagogue that Muslim men have been taking care of for most of its 161 years of existence and are doing so even today. 

The Beth El synagogue and Maghen David, built in 1856 and 1884, respectively, have both been recently repaired and restored by Kolkata's Jewish community of about 25 - down from about 5,000 just after World War 2.   

"It is so special because in India, there has never been any anti-Semitism in India," said Rabbi Robert David Rifkin who moved to Bangalore from Israel nine years ago and was in Kolkata last Sunday to re-dedicate the synagogue. 

"To have this amazing synagogue that is protected by Muslims, it really shows the actual truth of the relationship between Jews and Muslims that goes back centuries. Kolkata's synagogues is evidence that Jews and Muslims can live in peace," he added.

Sarah Silas Brown now lives in Canada but her parents got married at this synagogue in 1946 so she flew into Kolkata for the rededication with a framed wedding photograph. Sarah had gone to the local Jewish girls school and was head girl there.

At the rededication, girls from her school were invited to sing a hymn of peace. When Sarah heard the girls - all Muslims - sing a Hebrew song with perfect tone and pronunciation, she was moved to tears. 

"I got very emotional listening to non-Jewish kids singing Hebrew songs. It's just amazing and they are Muslim girls which is so very touching and so very special. Only in India can something like this happen," said Sarah. 

After the formal ceremony, the Rabbi hugged the Muslim caretaker of the synagogue who has now retired but the job has passed on to his son, also a Muslim. In fact, all other "bearers" at the synagogue are Muslims and they had a message for the world. 

Comments
"My message to Jews and Muslims worldwide is, be happy," said Gurfan, about 30 years old and taking care of Beth El for the last 10 years. "They should live together...like we do in India... They should come to Kolkata and see how we live together and there should be peace."

As he finished speaking to NDTV, from inside the synagogue, applause erupted. Pure serendipity but nothing, perhaps, could be more fitting. 

NDTV Beeps - your daily newsletter

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................