Friday, January 15, 2010
'140 or so' is what Johhny told us inside the only Synagogue in Gujarat, while telling us about the dwindling numbers of Jews in the state. From a few thousand when the Synagogue was built in the early 20th Century, through the mass exodus to Israel in 1947 and onwards, now only a few from the faith survive.
The synagogue, known as the Magen Abraham Synagogue, is located in the Khamasa area of Ahmedabad city, opposite the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. Built in the year 1934 with donations from the wealthy Jewish population (the Bene Israel Jews) in the then Mumbai Presidency, this was a replacement for an old worship area in the old city market area. The Synagogue has inscriptions in Hebrew and Marathi, and apparently some Hindu Marathi customs are also adopted due to cultural assimilation of the two faiths.
From three days a week, now public prayers are offered only once a week on Saturday in the evening, immediately after sunset. Another prominent change is in the seating area for the men and women. From an earlier arrangement when women used to sit on the second tier and men on the ground floor, now everyone shares the space opposite to the alter but on different sides. The top section has now fallen into disrepair.
Apart from all Jewish festivals, the synagogue also hosts marriage ceremony, circumcision for the new born and so on. For circumcision, a doctor has to be specially called from Mumbai. The Jewish population runs three schools in Ahmedabad, which are open to one and all.
Johnny welcomed us after a quick glance at our NID ID cards and has answers to some of our basic questions. My interest was to know more about the history of the place and the Jews in Ahmedabad. It could be an interesting trail to follow. More updates on this, as I discover more.
For anyone curious to know more about the Synagogue, this link is useful.