This remarkable article by Reema Abbasi in the online Pakistani newspaper Dawn makes a heartfelt plea for an NGO to take up the cause of the preservation of the Jewish cemetery in Karachi. The article asserts that 2,000 Jews stayed on in Pakistan in 1947, but there are only 10 Jewish families today. (With thanks: Farook)
"The fierce keepers of the graveyard refuse to let anyone in as they fear that excessive exposure will rob them of their home. However, when caught off-guard the family had some interesting information. “A lot of people used to come in the ‘50s, wearing black suits, hats and with beards. There were quite a few Jews here but after General Ayub many left for London,” says the old lady who lives there with her family.
“A few come here even now but they are in Sindhi-Muslim, Khoja or Memon families. They married Muslims or went undercover as Parsis because they fear for their lives. There are about 10 Jewish families in all, scattered in areas like Ramaswamy, Soldier Bazaar, Ranchore Line,” she continued.
"According to Aitken’s Gazetteer of the Province Of Sind, there were only 428 Jews enumerated in the census of 1901 and these were really all in Karachi. Many belonged to the Bene Israel community who observed Sephardic Jewish rites and are believed to have settled in India shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.
"Other research documents record about 2,500 Jews in Karachi with about 100 in Peshawar at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time of independence, many Jews migrated to India but about 2,000 stayed in Pakistan. Their first real exodus occurred soon after the creation of Israel which triggered many incidents of violence against Jews and the Karachi synagogue became a site of anti-Israel demonstrations. The majority of Jews who left Pakistan are said to have settled in Ramle, Israel, and have built a synagogue called Magain Shalome.
"Arif Hassan, renowned architect and town-planner, believes that this was a highly prosperous and active community. “Families such as the Dulseys were very important as prominent educationists who moved to Israel. One of them was also in government service.”
"Hassan also recalls that there were two famous Jewish cabaret artistes who performed at the Roma Shabana nightclub. “They were the Daniel sisters in the ‘70s and their names were Deborah and Suzie. One became a heroine in films and the other remained a dancer in clubs and films,” says Hassan.
"Commenting on the state of the graveyard and the fact that most of Karachi is either in denial of its existence or oblivious to it, Hassan says that it is vital for it to become a protected area. “I have asked for it to be made heritage property. If that does not happen, it will be destroyed like the Hindu cremation ground where many samadhis of prominent Hindus have given way to the Lyari Expressway,” asserts Hassan who is working on a three-volume account of the city.
"But the relevant government departments have no such plans. “No work is being done at the moment to make it a protected site. If this is done, it will be under the Special Preservation Act 1994 but we work mostly on cultural sites,” says Qasim Ali Qasim, head of Southern Circuit of the Archaeology Department.
"However, Qasim believes that if an NGO adopts a monument or a site then his department would provide the necessary technical assistance required to preserve it."
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Yes, there were once Jews in Pakistan