The Synagogue of the Bene Israel, Ahmedabad, India

Magen Abraham, Ahmedabad, Gujerat, India

 

 

Among the things to miss about India in a lifetime of not being there

 

is the acceptance there of the profusion of religious philosophies and practices

  

 And the accommodation of such. 

 

 

I was assured that the Jewish communities in India have never been persecuted in the thousands of years of their time in India except on Goa by the Portuguese following on the establishment of the Inquisition.

 

This seems still to be the case despite a  rise of sectarian tension and violence.

These photos were taken in 2010.

 

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Photo taken by Ellen Goldberg and posted to the website of The Jewish Communities of India in 1987

 

 

 

The synagogue, Magen Abraham,  in the old city, Ahmedabad  was built in 1934 by the Bene Israel who are one of the Jewish communities of India. 

 

It sits opposite a Parsi fire temple and is in close proximity to a Hindu temple, a  mosque and a church.

 

 

 

 

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Two pairs of Doric pillars support the pediment of the building within a front facade of Classical design.

 

 

 

 

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In 1934 there were 600 Jewish families in Gujerat.  In 2010, approximately 45 remained in the city and a total of 65 or so in the state. 

The majority have moved to Israel.

 

 

 

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On the ground floor, a glass screen framed in wood intervenes between the pillars at the front of the synagogue and the main door into the  building.

 Metal screens intervene between the ground floor and the stairs to the second floor.

 

 

 

 

 

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The language of the community is Marathi spoken by the people of western Maharashtra state where there remains a Jewish community.  The Jews of Ahmedabad migrated from that community. 

 

 

 

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One (hi)story says that a group of Jews on a trade visit was shipwrecked on the west Indian coast at least 2000 years ago. 

Those who survived dispersed to settle in rural communities on the mainland of western India, forgetting Hebrew but maintaining many of their rituals and dietary laws.

The prophet Elijah is a member of the greatest standing to the Bene Israel community for the help he gave them during this ordeal.

 

There are other (hi)stories of their arrival, however;  and no facts can be verified.

 

 

 

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Door into the Women’s Gallery on the second floor

 

 

 

 

The Jewish community in Ahmedabad has no rabbi (2010).

 

The cantor, who is teaching a portion of the Torah to a little boy in one of the photos, conducts all the rituals with the exception of circumcision. 

For this, a rabbi comes from Mumbai.

 

 

This community is here generally meat-eating. Coconut milk is substituted for milk in cooking in accordance with their Indian rural roots and with specific ritual provisions for food preparation.

 

 

 

The synagogue has a wide corridor at the front of the building on both floors.  And office space on both also.

The second floor is fronted by a large screen of yellow-gold glass; and has a balcony along all but the back wall:  the Women’s Balcony.

On one side of the synagogue, a covered courtyard

 

 

 

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From which steps up to the cantor’s apartment.

 

 

 

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On the other side of the building, an uncovered courtyard

 

 

 

 

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Through an open window is visible a part of the second floor balcony which  overlooks the main room for worship.

 

 

 

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An office, which I recall as being on the ground floor, where children were studying under the instruction of the cantor

 

 

 

 

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There also a member of the congregation who extended the warm courtesy given to me here and everywhere that I visited in the city of Ahmedabad and in the Gujerati state.

 

 

 

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The central room on the ground floor is the room of worship.

 

Surrounded by tall windows, paned  and shuttered in wood.  Light reflecting off the floor of white and pale grey marble.

Towards the center back of this room, the Bimah (photo taken from above).

 

 

 

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The Bimah ( photo taken from ground level) with white curtains screening the Ark at the back.

 

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Behind the Bimah and adjacent to the Ark are two covered chairs:  one for the prophet Elijah and the second for circumcision ceremonies.

Opposite the entrance and separated from it by the Bimah, is the Ark; here behind white curtains.  The Ark, three steps up to it, contains several Torahs.

 

Above, a menorah flanked on one side by the Ten Commandments. 

 

 

 

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I removed evidence of the cross-hanging electrical wiring in this photo

 

 

 

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On three sides of the Bimah, moveable wooden pews

 

 

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Upstairs is the Women’s Gallery, its doorway lit by the sun through a large window of yellow-gold glass on the front of the building. 

 

 

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Some of the symbols of of the faith and its architectural and decorative elements – except for the entrance of the building –  are in the Indo-Judaica adaptation of the Art deco style of the early 20th century.

 

 

 

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Encaustic tiles everywhere except in the room of worship

 

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Encaustic tiles everywhere except in the room of worship

 

 

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