Saturday 22 October 2016

Kolkata's Jewish Connect Archived Digitally


Documenting the contribution of the fast dwindling Jewish community of Kolkata, a digital archive has brought together a collection of their fading memories.

Jael Silliman, one of the few remaining Baghdadi Jews in Kolkata, has created the online archive with documents, photographs, letters, memoirs and videos charting the 200-year-old history of Jews in the city.

"Jews have played an important role in the growth of Kolkata as a city and I want to showcase that through the website www.Jewishcalcutta.In. Jews had flourished here and were pretty successful in whatever they did. I have brought all of that together," the 59-year-old Nehru Fulbright scholar told PTI.

The Baghdadi Jewish community came to Kolkata during the British Raj and were more than 3000 in number during Independence but have now been decimated to less than 30.

"After that they started shifting to other countries because they were unsure about their economic future as India took the policy of nationalisation," Silliman said.

Cyril Cohen and Aaron Harazi, two of the most elderly in the community, were interviewed and filmed for the project.

The film, put up on the website, also showcases the magnificent synagogues and the tale of Jewish Girls School where no Jewish girl has taken admission in the last 40 years.

Rare photographs of Kolkata-born Esther Victoria Abraham aka Pramila, a Bollywood actress and also the first 'Miss India', is a special attraction. 

Jewish delicacies are also an integral part of Kolkata's menu as no Christmas is complete without the trademark plum and rich fruit cakes of the iconic Nahoum's confectionery at New Market which sells 'Kosher' foods that conform to the regulations of Jewish dietary law.

The archive lists recipes from Mavis Hyman's book 'Indian Jewish Cooking' and Flower Silliman's new cookbook 'Three Cups of Flower' in the section on Calcutta Jewish food.

Silliman also collected images of artefacts and religious objects they had used over the years.

Traces of Jews are seen in the city in the form of three synagogues, two schools, a cemetery and Nahoums Confectionery.

Ezra Mansions, Ezra hospital and two buildings in the zoo that are owned and endowed by Jews still bear Jewish names. Belilios Street, Ezra Street and Synagogue Street also reflect the Jewish connection.

Silliman took the help of the Jewish diaspora spread in USA, Canada, Australia, Israel and London seeking photographs and memories of their stay in Kolkata.

Dr Amlan Das Gupta at the School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR) at Jadavpur University helped her in creating the archive.

In the second phase of her project, Silliman will interview those who knew the Jewish community and its members – their business acquaintances, friends, employers, employees, neighbours, teachers.

Now living in between New York and Kolkata, Silliman has written the novel 'The Man With Many Hats' that is set in Kolkata.

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