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Friday, May 02, 2008

Magain Shalome Synagogue in Karachi

According to 1998 census there are no Jews living in Pakistan ,but at the turn of the twentieth century, Karachi had a Jewish population of about two to three thousand.They were mainly traders and a few were civil servants. They spoke Marachi, which was spoken by most of Ben-e- Israel people living in various parts of the British India. The community was well to do, vibrant and fun loving.

It seems under British jurisdiction, the Jewish people were treated with tolerance. A small community lived in Peshawar where apart from the Bene Israel, the Baghdadi Jews and Bukharan Jews formed a small community and city had a synagogue. It has disappeared now. Few Jewish families lived in Rawalpindi and some in Lahore also.

Karachi had couple of synagogues. The famous Magain Shalome Synagogue was built in 1893 in Karachi by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon. Some accounts suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipality and his wife Sheeoola bai. It soon became the center of a small but vibrant Jewish community.

There existedvariety of social and welfare organizations to serve the Jewish community. The Young Man's Jewish Association, founded in 1903, whose aim was to encourage sports as well as religious and social activities of the Bene Israel in Karachi; the Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund, established to support poor Jews in Karachi; and theKarachi Jewish syndicate, formed in 1918, to provide homes to poor Jews at reasonable rents. Abraham Reuben, one of the leaders of the Jewish community, became the first Jewish councilor on the city corporation in 1936.

After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948 and Arab–Israel war , things got ugly for small Jewish community in Pakistan. The synagogue in Karachi was set to fire and Jews were attacked.The synagogue was later on repaired and restored by the community. The situation got worst and the plight of Jews became more precarious following disturbances and demonstrations directed against the Jews during the Arab-Israel wars in 1956, and 1967. Eventually most of the Jews moved to India, Israel and the United Kingdom. By 1968, thenumber of Jews in Pakistan had decreased to about 250 to 300.

However Magain Shalome Synagogue , a welfare organization, and a recreational organization kept functioning in the city. The small community in Peshawar and other parts of Pakistan ceased to exist, and the synagogue in Peshawer disappeared.Magain Shalome Synagogue, Karachi's last synagogue, was demolished in 1980s to make way for a shopping plaza in front of the last few Jewish families still braving in Karachi, with the understanding that in the new building a smaller synagogue would be built,that never happened.The Bene Israel (People of Israel) graveyard situated in Mewa Shah, alongwith the graveyard of Kutchi Memons and is the last resting place for hundreds of Karachi's Jews, many of whom preferred to stay on in Pakistan instead of going to Isreal or Europe or United Staes.

Unofficially some Jewish families do remain in Karachi, but they prefer to pass themselves off as Parsis. I met a Karachi Jew in 2004 and he told me that there are about 10 to 12 Bene Israel families in Karachi and they observe Sephardic Jewish rites. He also told me that Bene Israelis still living in Pakistani are living comfortable life and have excellent friendships with many people here in Karachi.

Majority of the Karachi Jews now live in Ramle, Israel. The Older members still speak Urdu or Marachi and have built a synagogue there, and named it, Magen Shalome.what else.

Written in September 2005 for Writers' Forum.

16 comments:

  1. For Pakistanis this article has come as a surprise since they hardly knew any existance of the Jews in Pakistan. It is a wonderfull piece of historical facts. Good Work Jazee. From Najam

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  2. surely it surprised us all. i wish if we can chat or some of paksitani jews participate in the discussion.

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  3. Aaliyah:
    Like yourself I am aslo wishing to meet a Jewish person from Karachi. I am originally from Karachi and now live in Canada. I remember as a kid passing by Lawrence Road when I saw a Sign Board in Urdu, English and Hebrew which clearly read as "Pakistan Bene Isreal Association". Its interesting that there were Jews there-but it is also sad that the original people of Karachi left just becsue they were Jews. I hope I can meet or communciate with some old Karachi Jewsih people and tell them that we Muslims and Pakitanis are not bigots! I also hope that one days the Jews who left Karachi can return and visit there graveyard and old MOHALLAH. Khuda Hafiz

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  4. This is a lie that the jewish temple in Karachi was burnt. Since 1950's up untill 1970's the synogogue was in perfect shape. if there was ever any agitation in Karachi, I have seen the Karachi police surrounding the place day and night so no harm would be done to the place. this Jewish Sysnagogue was in Ranchore Line in Karachi near where my step mother used to live. It had a sign which read something like "Bani Israel Masjid" and also something like, " Only jewish people are allowed to enter this place". Also there was a stage dancer who used to come and dance on occasions like some one's birthday or a variety show. Her name was Lilly Soloman and she used to come accompanied by her father Soloman. I have seen the father and the daughter when she came in my neighborhood in a variety show to dance. She was very beautiful and danced pakistani traditional dances very well. no one bothered her because of her jewish origin and she socialized with the Pakistanis very freely without any fear. If some cheap hudlum had ever tried to bother her it was not because she was a jewish but in Karachi there were all kinds of people in such variety shows and few were jirks and they would bother any girl regardless of what her religion was. hell! they never even bothered to know what Lilly's religion was any way.
    Also I worked with a company and we purchased aflat from an old jewish couple accross from preedy police station near Regal Cinema in Saddar Karachi. The old couple was living among the Muslim as they were one of them and I am sure that the maiman community living around them treated them very well because I have seen the young and old people around them all the time, calling the old man "Uncle". I used to hang around there a lot and never saw any one harrassing them or even care to know anything about them. The owners of my company gave them very good price for there flat. I remember, the old man told me that his son was in Germany and they also were thinking to go live with him in Germany. Every thing was just normal there.People tretaed them just as they treated all their other neighbors. By the way, about Lilly Soloman, I heard lately that Lilly had married and converted to Islam, but I wont bet on it because I only heard about her and am not sure so don't quote me on that. Bottom line is that yes there were jews living in Karachi at least as late as 1973. now if they, the jews, were not comfortable living there then it was there problem. May be they were feeling guilty conscious for what their brothern have been doing with the Palestinians in Palestine. But rest assured that the Muslim living there around them would not let anyone harm them if some one would even thinkd to harm them. I can say that with 100% ceratinty.

    AWP

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  5. Hi AWP. I am gald to read yoru article. yes its a lie that the only Synagogue was burnt in Karachi. As a child I do remeebring passing by thsi Synagogue which read in Urdu and an English "Pakistan Bene Isreal Association" or Masjid. It was a grand stone made building on the corner of Lawrence Road and Synagogue street. SO it means there must eb Jews living nearby. I have heard myself on BBC Urdu Service some interviews with Jews from Karachi who now live in Ramle, Israel. They spoke like Memons, Parsis etc. You mentioned one very interesting thing in your mail-that si about Lilly Soleman. I also remebr as a child going for a party in the city area of Karachi and there was a dancer by this name. We may have met even at this party as kids! lol. I now live in Canada but miss Karachi a lot! Jews of Karachi interest me a lot and I am trying to find some Karachi Jews and make friends with them.

    Where about are you living in now? By the way, there is another Blog " Point of no return" where a discussion is taking palce about the Jews of Karachi. Maybe you can go there and write too? Best regards.

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  6. Hello AWP: Where are you my fellow Karachite.Your last post was very interesting about the Karachi Jews. As I said I also remember Lilly Solomon as a kid. I would lvoe to hear from you again.

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  7. Hi,
    I am a Jew having lived some part of my life in Karachi.
    My family was stationed in Hyderabad (Sind) and we used to come to Karachi to celebrate the Jewish New year and the Yom Kippur (Day of Attonement). I remember in 1956 while we were praying in the synagogue some thugs did break into the hall and scatter the Holy Scrolls. They were finally overcome by the police and arrested. This was an isolated incident.
    On the whole we Jews did not suffer any animosity from our Muslim neighbors. Most of my close friends were Muslims and some of whom I am still in contact till this day.
    By the way, I am now residing in Israel.
    Anyone wishing to get first hand information about this vanished community can contact me at: machaims@gmail.com

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  8. Meir

    this is impossible that your living in isreal & migrated there from pakistan because of pakisani government never allow any one if your jew or not a jew to go to isreal im half muslim and half jew
    but im here

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  9. So one thing is clear from these posts that Muslims are as peaceful as any other adherent in the world.
    One should avoid to highlite an isolated incident when posting on net I beleive.

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  10. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with in valuable information... Regards

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  11. Dear Anonymous (who replied to Meir) do you have an email address?

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  12. I Zahra ,
    found this blog intresting and glad to know that in my beautiful city Karachi, there are jews and some who left for Israel or other countries use Urdu to speak along with other languages, its lovely to live with the jews in Karachi.I wish I could ever meet with the Karachi based jews practicing there religion with peace and harmony along with Pakistani.

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  13. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.
    I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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  14. JZ,
    Now I can correlate the article you know where. Some parts are exact reproduction.
    B Rgds
    SS

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