09 March 2007

Jewish India's crown jewel

Paul Rockower is on a global six-month trek. A former press officer for the Consulate General of Israel in Houston, Texas, he's writing a blog about his "misadventures" as a wandering Jew.

His story in the Jerusalem Post about the Jewish community of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, caught my eye because a long-lost branch of our (Persian) Dardashti family moved to Bombay in the late 19th century before immigrating to the UK and Israel.

Mumbai's first Jews arrived from Iraq as early as the 18th century, and were augmented by those from Persia and other countries. Rockower's article focuses on Sir David Sassoon, who arrived in 1833, and his business empire as well as the Sassoon family's philanthropy.

The family is intertwined with the city: from the Sassoons came a library, the Mechanics Institute, a school for juvenile delinquents, the Magen David Synagogue, the Knesset Eliyahu Synagogue, a synagogue in Puneh, an elementary school and the Colaba docks.

Some 60 years ago, Mumbai had 15,000 Jews; today there are perhaps 5,000. Institutions include a shochet, mohel and kosher bakery, as well as a place for Jewish travelers to stay.

Those interested in this city will be happy to know that Hebrew University professor Dr. Shaul Sapir is working on a book about the Jewish community's mark on Mumbai.

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