STUDENT VOICES: Jewish Kolkata: Remnants of a Vibrant Past

Aliya Sabharwal

MA Student, Department of South Asia Studies 

 

This past October, The New York Times published images from Kolkata's two remaining synagogues: The Last Jews of Kolkata. I was in the city the next month and made my second visit to the sites. 

Exterior of Magen David Synagogue, Bradbourne Street, 

Kolkata, West Bengal.

Written permission is required to enter the synagogues. Nahoum's, a Jewish bakery in Kolkata's renowned New Market,  is the sole purveyor of the typed notes which are pre-signed by the bakery's owner, David Elias Nahoum, who passed away this past March. In 2008, when I made my first visit to the synagogues, the notes were handwritten on-site by Mr. Nahoum. 

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Interior of Magen David Synagogue.

 

Beth-El Synagogue on Pollock Street, a short walk from  Magen David. 

The Nahoums and other remaining Jews in Kolkata have established a trust for the maintenance of the synagogues, which accounts for why the unused buildings have not fallen into disrepair unlike many of the other historic buildings in the city. According to the sites' Muslim caretakers, the synagogues are visited almost daily by both foreign tourists and local residents. The Jews that visit are almost entirely non-Indian.  

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Beth-El's stained glass from the interior.