Maps of Jewish Calcutta

This map has been prepared to illustrate "Jewish Calcutta" - that is, the areas where the Jewish community primarily lived and worked. It highlights the key community institutions and some of the sites that are noted in the archive.

There is also a note on the cosmopolitan nature of the City in 1837. It identifies the various communities settled in Calcutta and their numerical strength.

00 A Visual History of the Community

This set of 30 posters is up on display at the Beth-El Synagogue. They form a pictorial history of the Jewish Community of Calcutta and the various memories, people, luminaries, events and institutions that form a part of it.

01 Film Gallery

The audio and films for this section have all been recently shot in Calcutta. We drew on the handful of people that are still here to talk about Jewish Calcutta, so they could share their memories. Cyril Cohen and Aaron Harazi, two of the most elderly in the community, were interviewed and filmed. They spoke of their school days and work life when the community was thriving. We filmed in the synagogues and the Jewish Girls' School. We wanted to showcase the magnificent synagogues and also give the viewers a clear sense of how they are situated today. The synagogues are on busy commercial streets and no longer in use, and matzah-s are no longer made in Calcutta. There has not been a Jewish girl in the Jewish Girls' School for about 40 years, but the school still thrives and provides its students with a sound education. Minati De, whose husband worked at the National Tobacco factory speaks about what it was like to live as part of a Jewish community. Flower Silliman cooks some of the favorite dishes of the Calcutta Jewish community. A shoot at the racecourse with Elijah Twena, an avid racer, speaks of how racing was a well-loved pastime among the Jewish community. Ayal Joshua has contributed a video he has made about his search for his past in Calcutta. Today one must search for “Jewish Calcutta”, that for the most part, has been consumed by the City.

02 A Novel Experience

There are two novels, Flowers in the Blood by Gay Courter, and The Man With Many Hats by Jael Silliman, that are set in Calcutta. Flowers in the Blood is set in Calcutta in the mid nineteenth century, and The Man With Many Hats in the twentieth century. Excerpts from each of them are presented in a dramatic reading.

There is also a play that is set in the Calcutta Jewish community, entitled Calcutta Kosher, written by Shelley Silas, and directed by Janet Steele. The plot revolved around Mozelle whose two daughters return to Calcutta to be at her side when she is old and in critical health. It was staged in London by Kali Theater in 2007.

03 Notable Members of the Community

This exhibit represents those who were leaders in the Jewish community. These include the founders, the members who were active in Jewish community affairs, civic leaders, philanthropists, well known personalities, as well as religious leaders. Jews also served in the British army, and General JFR Jacob rose to be Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. Among the personalities represented are those who left Calcutta, and made their mark in other countries.

There were also many women pioneers who have been represented in another section, as are those who were in the media.

04 Women Pioneers

Jewish women were well-educated and played important roles in their families and in the community. Many were professionals and were highly trained in numerous fields. They competed in sports and were active in political affairs.

05 Film Personalities and Others in the Public Gaze

The cinema was a very popular pastime among the Jewish community. Theater and acting were popular among men and women. As Indian women were mostly not allowed to act in film and as the Jewish community was less conservative than their Indian counterpart, a few Jewish women joined the film industry in its formative period.

Ezra Mir, one of the foremost documentary film-makers of India was also from the Jewish community.  

06 Community Portraits

A selection of photographs representing the community throughout their sojourn in Calcutta.

07 Jewish Business in Calcutta

The Jewish community was primarily a business community. There were Jewish industrialists like the Ezra family, Jewish landlords as well as many in medium and small scale businesses. Some of the businesses are featured and notes on large, medium and small businesses are provided.

08 Homes, Mansions, and Official Buildings

This exhibit presents a cross-section, with images, of the homes, mansions, landmarks and commercial buildings of the Jews in Calcutta.