Farhana Madar takes a look at the expansive contribution of the Jewish community to the city.
Mumbai is the city of dreams – this awareness makes every single civilian beam with pride. However, let’s stop and take a moment to consciously realize what it took to get to this point of development. It was with sweat and blood and communal contribution – much of which came from Mumbai’s minorities. One of which was and still is the small but eclectic Jewish Community.
The humble beginnings of The Jews in Mumbai is estimated to have established been about two thousand years ago or so, when a shipwreck stranded about seven couples, landing them in the outskirts of Mumbai. At first these Jew’s, understandably so, felt apprehensive and unacquainted to their surrounds but with the provided hospitality by those around them, they started to settle in.
Nevertheless, finding themselves foreign situations didn’t seem to hinder their diligence to make ends meet. “Initially they were engaged in oil seed crushing. They used to create oil out of the oil seeds.” explains Judah Samuel, President of Shaare Rason Synagogue.
Samuel continues, “The Jews came without anything. They assimilated over the years with local communities in India but they kept their religion and customs such as The Shema, Kashrut, Shabbath and The Brith, amongst other things.”
Over time the community started advancing in to different villages. Soon and untimely, a majority of the Jews found a home far away from home in Mumbai City and Thane district. As for the betterment of Mumbai, the efforts by this community have been umpteen and deserve more recognition. To shed some light on some diverse contributions Samuel explains, “First of all we have had people from the Jewish community that have served in the army in India. The Mayor of Bombay was also Jew. Our Jewish educate more non Jewish students than Jewish. Dr. Erulkar was the physician of Mahatma Gandhi and David Erulkar appeared for Bal Gangadhar Tilak.”
Apart from the major endowments on their part – there’s beauty in the fact that as a posse, the Jews continue to remain ever so humble. “India is a country that has never come in the way of our practices. All of us are extremely grateful to this wonderful country. It is the only country in the world that never made us suffer from anti-Semitism. All of Europe was burning with anti Semitism. This is the only country that never made us feel like outsiders. The freedom we had after making this our home made many Jews that stayed here never want to leave,” expresses Samuel.
He continues, “It took almost 67 years to achieve minority. All we wanted was some record that Jews exist in this country. They promised, they kept their word, and they have done it. This is as far as Maharashtra is concerned. We are waiting for Jews in other parts of India that need recognition. It’s very important because our children don’t have to go for exams on days like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
The Jews and the city collectively have come a long way. Needless to say, David Sassoon has had a great hand in this. Currently, President of the Indian Jewish Congress, Solomon Sopher, a humble man, is the dominion of the David Sassoon Library and is the Managing Trustee of the Sir Jacob Sassoon Charity Trust.
Sopher shares, “The contribution of the Jews has been enormous, all throughout the years and specifically for about 250 years ago when the Sassoon built an empire, starting from David Sassoon who built the Sassoon Hospital in Pune. It was one of the largest and best equipped to look after the needs of the poor all throughout the years – say about 175 years.”
Adding, “We also have the leprosy home in Pune that look after poor beggars, this establishment in Pune was very important because from the angle of Maharashtra state as Pune was a subsidiary to Bombay.”
The Sassoon’s did not stop there. From there on synagogues were built being built where Jewish people were taken care of. He also brings up The David Sassoon library in Fort that is undoubtedly a great establishment. “The library catered to thousands of Indian scholars and otherwise, where students, lawyers and respectable people earned their living and could go from strength to strength in education” expresses Sopher.
He adds, “Apart from that, the Sassoon docks are one contribution to the city of Mumbai where trade could be done. We also have The David Sassoon Reformary in Matunga treating people that aren’t sound enough mentally. The Masina Hospital is another contribution.”
Furthermore, Sopher makes known that the Jews set up schools and colleges in the city namely – Elphinstone College, The Institute Of Science, The Jacob Sassoon High School, The E.E.E. Sassoon High School and Sir Elly Kadoorie that catered to more non-Jew than Jew students of Bombay.
What’s also clear is that the Jews put in their sweet and blood for the army, General Jack Jacob being one of them. “The Jews played a very big part, but without being recognized as Jews unfortunately and without being given a minority status in India.” Sopher expresses.
Ever wondered where Flora Fountain got its name from? It was from Lady Flora Sassoon. Sopher says, “She played a very important part in the plague epidemic in Bombay (especially), thousands were saved by her through her institute.”
Furthermore, The Jacob Sassoon Trust undertakes a profusion of social work for all communities. Daily the Trust receives several cases. He says, “We have a special person heading the sector. If it’s a heart case we give a little more, if there’s a cancer case we give a little more.”
The Jews have enriched our city profoundly. It is with utmost joy that we as whole can celebrate with them, and congratulate them on achieving the minority status. With heartwarming humility Sopher concludes, “We the Jewish Community in India are extremely grateful to the Indian Government and the Indian people, for letting us live with dignity and pride over the years in India where we have not felt any difference than any other Indian. We will continue doing what we can for the city and for India.”
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- Jewish Community
- Jacob Sassoon High School
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- Jews contribution to Mumbai
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- Judah Samuel
- Shaare Rason Synagogue
- The E.E.E. Sassoon High School and Sir Elly Kadoorie
- The Shema