Rededication ceremony at a synagogue in Kolkata, India.
(photo credit: DANIEL CARMON / TWITTER)
Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon rededicated two of Kolkata’s oldest synagogues on Sunday after they were recently restored.
“Remembering and preserving the glorious past of Jewish Kolkata, contributing to the fabric of the city of Kolkata in the present and looking at the future, two synagogues were rededicated today – in the most festive atmosphere of Hanukka,” he wrote on Twitter.
The two synagogues are the Beth El synagogue and the Magen David synagogue.
Also present at the events was Tzvia Valdan, daughter of late Israeli president Shimon Peres.
“Moments of happiness,” tweeted Israeli diplomat in Delhi Adva Vilchinski, describing the event as “historic and exciting.”
“The synagogues are living symbol of the special relationship between #India #Jews & #Israel,” Vilchinski tweeted.
During the event, Carmon lit the Hanukkia and students – mostly Muslims and Christians – sang Hebrew songs.
The Jewish community of Calcutta was once robust and vibrant, after Jews arrived to the region on the heels of a thriving trade industry in the late 1700s. By World War II, the Jewish population of Kolkata had swelled to 5,000, but when the British left in 1947, Indian Jews began to emigrate elsewhere.
“The Jewish community in Kolkata is perceived as a dying community,” The Indian Express quoted president and trustee of Beth El synagogue, David R. Ashkenazy, as saying. “To an extent, it is true. The numbers have dwindled over the past few decades and now there are just 30 of us left in the city. At its height, the community had 5,000 members in the city. Then the migration started in the late 1950s and 60s with Jews shifting to America, Israel, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and other places,” he said.
The Beth El synagogue was constructed in 1856 and Magen David in 1884. Their restoration began in 2014 when they were dilapidated and in bad condition.
“But there is another reason behind this project,” the Indian Express quoted Ashkenazy as saying. “In Kolkata, where so many of us lived for so many years, there is all the infrastructure present for the Jewish community to become a vibrant community once more. There are three synagogues, a cemetery and two Jewish schools— one for girls and one for boys. This is essentially what any community needs,” he added, looking forward to a revived Jewish community in the city.