The Jewish Jewels of Calcutta: Magen David Synagogue

Arpita Mitra

The interiors of the Magen David Synagogue are astonishingly well maintained. The chequered marble floor, gleaming chandeliers, stained glass windows create a stunning atmosphere.

Arpita Mitra

Arpita Mitra

The Baghdadi Jews came to Calcutta during the British Raj to take the commercial opportunities the city afforded. The first Jewish immigrant to Kolkata was Shalom Cohen in 1798 from Aleppo in present day Syria. Jews of Calcutta have left many traces behind. Synagogues, schools, cemetery, Ezra mansions, Ezra Hospital, Nahoums Confectionery, two buildings in the zoo.

The most influential Jewish family in Kolkata was perhaps the father- son real estate magnets David Joseph Ezra and Elias David Ezra. They were behind buildings like the Chowringhee Mansions, Esplanade Mansions and two synagogues. It is perhaps not surprising that the last conductor of Calcutta Symphony Orchestra was Bernard ‘ Bunny’ Jacob. With barely 30 Jews left in the city, mostly very elderly, the community lives on through the impressions they left on the city’s skyline and culture.

We would look at a few of these impressions. The Magen David Synagogue was built in 1884 by Elias David Ezra in memory of his father. The Magen David or The Shield of David Synagogue is located at the junction of Brabourne Road and Canning Street. Is approached through an arched door containing the hexagonal Star of David and Hebrew inscription. The two side walls have memorial plaques dedicated to the well known Jews of Kolkata. The interiors are astonishingly well maintained. The chequered marble floor, gleaming chandeliers, stained glass windows create a stunning atmosphere. It also has the seven- branched lamp of Menorah. The synagogue is built in Italian Renaissance style and has a brick-red finish. Ornate floral pillars shipped from Paris enhance the Continental look.

An aged Jewish lady who resides in Park Street comes here alone every Friday evening on Sabbath and lights the fire. She and sometimes a few more come on Saturday mornings too. A caretaker said that until recently one would have to obtain permission from Nahoums Confectionery to see the insides of the synagogue, apparently till Mr Solomon the owner passed away. Now it is open to public from 10 am to 5 pm. The caretakers maintain the synagogue with due respect as if it is very close to their hearts. The property still belongs to the Jewish Community. The caretakers’ responsibility is to collect rent from several shops in the vicinity. The caretakers are mostly Muslims from Orissa. The mutual respect, trust and cooperation between Kolkata’s Jewish community and these caretakers can set a beautiful example before many warring nations.

 

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