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Muslims keep alive Kolkata’s Jewish heritage

However it was not the regular inflow of Muslim women within the previous 20 years that moved Alexander’s mother and father to take her out of the varsity, she says.

They have been anxious as a result of she was final remaining occupant of a Jews-only dormitory, as most Jewish women that they had recognized had migrated to Israkel, America or Europe “with their of us.”

“They (college authorities) needed to retain a matron only for me,” recollects Alexander, now aged 50. “I might be alone within the dormitory at evening and my mother and father began panicking. Muslims had nothing to do with my leaving.”

The swelling ranks of Muslim women within the Jewish college supply a glimpse into the deep ties between Kolkata’s Muslim and once-thriving Jewish neighborhood.

Greater than 1,200 of the practically 1,400 college students are Muslims, as is the varsity’s vice principal and half the college.

The change started within the 1950s, when there weren’t sufficient Jewish households needing an establishment arrange particularly to instil Jewish values.

As Jewish enrollment petered out, the authorities determined to confess kids of different faiths. The largest response got here from the Muslims of close by areas.

Aileen Jo Cohen (foreground) and Mitana Alexander talk to Muslim caretakers at one of Calcutta's three synagogues.

As we speak, there may be little or no “Jewish” concerning the college, save for maybe its title, the Star of David on the varsity gates, the varsity uniform and notebooks, and portraits of Jewish patrons on the partitions.

Authorities have made accessible a “altering room” for Muslim women whose mother and father frown upon their stepping out in public in class skirts.

These college students go away dwelling within the burqa, grow to be their uniforms as soon as in class, and placed on the burqa when leaving. “Our mother and father do not prefer it if we naked our legs,” says senior scholar Zara Ahmed, 17.

“The college has come to represent Jewish-Muslim concord in Kolkata,” says managing trustee Aileen “Jo” Cohen.

The concord is seen elsewhere too; the town’s three synagogues — the smallest of which boasts of extra chairs in its prayer corridor than there are Jews in Kolkata — are sorted by Muslim caretakers.

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Muslims additionally assist with the dressing of our bodies for Jewish burials and outdoors the Magen David Synagogue, Muslim bangle sellers carrying the topi (the Muslim prayer cap), have arrange kiosks on the bustling footpath.

“The shut ties and optimistic working relationships between Muslims and Jews are deeply rooted within the native context of Kolkata,” says Jael Silliman, 62, a city-born Jewish scholar and writer, and a former Affiliate Professor of Ladies’s Research on the College of Iowa.

The primary Jew to reach in Kolkata, on August four, 1798, was Shalom Ha-Cohen. A local of Aleppo, Syria, Shalom was initially the court docket jeweler to a Muslim prince in northern India.

Shalom’s prosperity attracted different Jews from West Asia. In keeping with neighborhood information, the inhabitants of Jews “of Arabic disposition” expanded to 600 by the 1830s. That quantity stood at round four,000 when India gained independence from British rule in 1947.

Nonetheless, quickly after the neighborhood began emigrating en mass, starting the top of a 200-year affiliation with the town.

“A mix of nationwide and world occasions within the ’40s and ’50s led to a really speedy dissolution of the neighborhood,” says Silliman, whose two daughters settled within the US.

With India’s independence, British settlers started returning to England, Israel got here into being in Could 1948, and the fledgling Indian authorities’s Socialist insurance policies have been perceived as not being conducive to enterprise.

As we speak, the variety of Jews in Kolkata stands at 22, the middle-aged Alexander being in all probability the youngest.

And it’s left to the likes of the Jewish Ladies Faculty Vice-Principal Abeda Razeq to maintain these ties alive.

Her father’s greatest pal in school was a Jew, whose household runs the 115-year-old confectionary retailer Nahoum’s, and their friendship, which continued past faculty, first uncovered Razeq to Jewish tradition.

The 2 households exchanged present hampers throughout their respective festivals and Razeq learnt of the similarities and variations between kosher and halal delicacies.

She even helped out at Nahoum’s at Easter and Christmas: a Muslim lady at a Jewish bakery wrapping muffins throughout Christian festivals in a predominantly Hindu metropolis.

The Nahoum household has shrunk to only one member now, who spends a lot of his time overseas, and the employees — lots of them Muslims — run the present.

Razeq did her dissertation on Kolkata’s distinctive Jewish-Muslim relationship, and desires she had the time to finish her doctorate on it.

“It is a wealthy topic,” she says.

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