Renovated Mumbai grand synagogue now a World Heritage Site

The Keseneth Eliyahoo Synagogue had fallen into disrepair as the local Jewish community dwindled, but has now been restored to its former glory.

The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A historic synagogue in the heart of Mumbai celebrated its housewarming rededication this week, just ahead of Hanukkah.
The second oldest synagogue in India, the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue was built in 1884 by the Sassoon family for the Baghdadi Jewish community as a stunning place of worship for one of the world’s oldest, continuous Jewish communities. But as Indian Jews looked to Israel, England and the US for religious, economic and educational opportunities, the synagogue fell into disrepair.
The synagogue was awarded a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Merit earlier this year for the work done to repair the place of worship.
Plans were drawn up for restoring the synagogue in 2010 by the World Monuments Fund, which also had a hand in helping to preserve sites such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the statues on Easter Island, but the community was too small to finance the extensive repairs.
In 2017, the JSW Foundation, the charitable arm of JSW Group, one of India’s largest business conglomerates, stepped in to fund the work, seeing the project as a benefit not just to Jews, but to the whole community. The repairs were carried out under the direction of architect Abha Lambah and took two years to complete.
“I am a Hindu, but if I am a good person I will try and help people in my city,” said Sangita Jindal, chairwoman of the JSW Foundation. “It was a dire need. They did not have the facility to do it on their own because they have a very small community. No one else is trying to help them, and they are our neighbors.”
Built in the Sephardi tradition, the synagogue’s ark is on the wall facing Jerusalem, the prayer leader’s podium is central, and a women’s gallery overlooks the ground floor. Detailing such as ornate columns and paneling are highlighted in blue, cream and gold, and the synagogue features some of the most extensive stained glass windows in India.
Speaking at the rededication celebration, Solomon Sopher, president and trustee of the synagogue said, “We are grateful to Mrs. Sangita Jindal, Ms. Abha Narain Lambah and others who have worked tirelessly in restoring our beautiful synagogue.”
Community member Eddna Samuel said the JSW Foundation, headed by Jindal, has laid a new milestone in promoting the true culture of uniting communities by restoring the most beautiful architecture of Jewish religion.
The renovated synagogue, equipped with a kosher kitchen, is open to visitors, who can also enjoy the new on-site restaurant featuring Jewish Indian and Baghdadi cuisine.