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« Translating the language of God | Main | Three Cups of Tea and A Mountain of Salt (Sujatha) »

April 18, 2011


Norman: Here is more.

During my last trip to India in November 2010, my sister and I were in Kolkata for a short period. We made a trip to the old city to see some historic sights. We managed to see some but our efforts to enter the famous Magen David Synagogue met with the same fate as our abortive attempt to see another historic Indian synagogue. It was locked and special permission was required for entry. (The Magen David is the second picture in the Calcutta Telegraph story)

thank you, norman. who has an explanation for the exceedingly small number of jews in india? in our grandparental time, there were many thriving communities there. did they go to israel? im baffled....

Elatia, after 1947 - 48 (independence of India and the creation of Israel) through the 1950s, many Indian Jews left for Israel. Others went to England, Canada, Australia and the US.

The where did they go part of Elatia's question is the easy part. There's a public facebook page for the Indian Jewish diaspora-- a diaspora of a diaspora-- here:

A good friend of mine from law school is Baghdadi Jewish from Delhi on her mother's side. Half the family is in Los Angeles, which has the biggest such population in the US, and half in London. Although I lived not more than a mile from her grandparents, and attended a quite diverse synagogue a short walk from our homes, I would never have run across them but for my friend. An insular sub-community.

The why part is difficult to answer, and probably different for the different sub-communities. For some communities and individuals, it may have been a religious drive to return to the physical land of Israel stemming from an interpretation of sacred texts, coupled with the political opportunity to do so. That the upheaval of Indian independence coincided with the creation of the state of Israel almost certainly played into the choice for some. For some, basic economic opportunity in Israel and elsewhere may have played a large role, as they have for many non-Jewish Indians who have left. My understanding is that for a variety of sociological, historical, and political reasons, the Baghdadi Jewish community, in particular, chose to identify with the British Empire (my friend's older family members from India have names like "Victoria" and "Anne"), which explains in part the choice of many in that particular community to leave for England when England left, notwithstanding their lack of ethnic connection to England.

There's been an increasing embrace of the food of other diaspora communities by Jews in the US (and certainly in Israel, where many now live). I've noticed an increase in Sephardic recipes in news articles at holiday times, and among dishes presented as party/event food at the aforementioned synagogue in LA, though most of the congregation were of Ashkenazi origin. Many of the Indian Jewish dishes (I've mostly had the Baghdadi ones, which have a strong Arab/Central Asian influence) are delicious. Frankly, nostalgia aside, pretty much every Jewish community in the world ate better than my ancestors in Russia.

For wonderful historical detail and some good recipes (although some are frustratingly vague as to amounts of, e.g., salt, water for stews, etc.), I recommend World of Jewish Cookery by James Beard award winning Claudia Roden, an Egyptian Jew now living in the UK. There are two entries in its index for my uncle, Ed, so you know it must be good! :)

Hi!! I lived In India for 5 years. Indians are very friendly . They Welcome all the traditions and customs. The Jewish people in India also experience a joyful life. Than..Q.

Nahoum and Sons bakery is a famous and well-known bakery in calcutta especially for its jewish varieties from past few decades.Presently its jewish customers number has been decreased but the fame of the bakery remained same from then till now because of its quality and variety...

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