Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More about the Jews of Pakistan

This blog continues to draw much interest in the Jews of Pakistan. Jayzee Jehan tells us he was one of the first to write about the Jews of Karachi and met several in 2003. Here is his article, written in 2004 or 2005:

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 a 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 existed a variety 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 the Karachi 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 councillor on the city corporation in 1936.

After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948 and Arab–Israel war, things got ugly for the small Jewish community in Pakistan. The synagogue in Karachi was set on fire and Jews were attacked. The synagogue was later on repaired and restored by the community. The situation got worse 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, the number of Jews in Pakistan had decreased to about 250 to 300.

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1 comment:

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