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My Visit to India

by: Mordechai Ben-Porat

Abridged from "Nehardea" No. 12

The trip began on February 1999 on an El-Al flight to Bombay, now Mombai.

We met the President of the Baghdad Jewish Community, Mr Solomon Sopher, who had remained in Bombay and who also serves as the Trustee of the David Sassoon Fund. He is a pleasant, kindly man who has a great deal of energy and who devotes much of his time to the service of the community. He is also the Cantor for the Magen David Synagogue in Mombai.

The Israeli Consul in Mombai, Mr Walid Mansur, is a Druse who has served many years in the Israeli Defence Forces and was retired as a Brigadier General. He is well loved by the Jewish Community and has a great understanding of them. On the Sabbath, I visited the Eliahu Synagogue with Mr Mansur. There were about three minyans and a similar number of women. Among the men were representatives of the American Joint who had come for the dedication of a new building for the Jewish Community. In Mombai there are about fifty people of Baghdadi origin who were born in India. In all of India there are some 5,000 "Bnei Yisrael". In this Synagogue, in the 1950's there were about 700 worshippers. In those days the Bnei Yisrael were not a part of the Baghdadi community but today the Baghdadi Jews are very much helped by the Jews of "Bnei Yisrael" in many ways.

We visited the library named for David Sassoon, the Sassoon family has about 17 trust funds. At the entrance to the library is a statue of David Sassoon and many things written about him. Then we visited the Magen David Synagogue. We visited Miss Sophy Kelly who used to be the wealthiest person among the Jews of Bombay but is today in painfully straightened circumstances.

In Poona we went to the Ohel David Synagogue, an impressive structure, within and without. In Poona there are three Baghdadi families. It is heartbreaking to see how badly the Synagogue was burned, together with the Torah Scrolls, by Iranian ruffians who broke in through a window one night and set fire to the building. This was during the Gulf War when missiles were being fired on Israel.

In Calcutta we visited the old and beautiful Magen David Synagogue with the President of the Community Mr David Nahoum. From there we proceeded to the Beit El Synagogue. This synagogue has a ritual bath, an oven for baking matzot and a winery for preparing raisin wine. Outside the synagogue is an area for erecting a tabernacle (succah). Inside there are some twenty Torah Scrolls. Mr Nahoum told me in great distress that in order to save what is left of the Community's property there is a plan to turn it all over to the care of the government: it will then be designated as a protected site.

There are still about 60 Jews in Calcutta and all are over 65 years of age. Each week on Erev Shabbat, prayer services are held, alternating between the Synagogues.

On our return to Mombai, we were invited by Mr Sopher for Friday night kiddush and dinner. He invited 12 guests, and there were 15 varieties of food well-loved by those from Iraq.


Scribe: Mr Ben-Porat's visit to Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia in March 1998 and his visit to India in February 1999 can be regarded as a sequel to the historic visit of the well-known 12th century Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, who over 14 years journeyed through Europe and the Middle East to record the life and activities of Jewish communities there. In the case of Mr Ben-Porat his travel had a happy ending in that he married his secretary soon afterwards (see photograph Scribe No. 72, page 30).



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