Muslims keep alive Kolkata's Jewish schools, stores in addition to traditions

yet of which was not the steady influx of Muslim girls within the preceding two decades of which moved Alexander’s parents to take her out of the school, she says.

They were worried because she was last remaining occupant of a Jews-only dormitory, as most Jewish girls they had known had migrated to Israkel, America or Europe “with their folks.”

“They (school authorities) had to retain a matron just for me,” recalls Alexander, right now aged 50. “I would certainly be alone within the dormitory at night in addition to my parents started out panicking. Muslims had nothing to do with my leaving.”

The swelling ranks of Muslim girls within the Jewish school offer a glimpse into the deep ties between Kolkata’s Muslim in addition to once-thriving Jewish community.

More than 1,0 of the nearly 1,400 students are Muslims, as is actually the school’s vice principal in addition to half the faculty.

The change began within the 1950s, when there were not enough Jewish families needing an institution set up specifically to instil Jewish values.

As Jewish enrollment petered out, the authorities decided to admit children of various other faiths. The biggest response came by the Muslims of nearby areas.

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

Today, there is actually very little “Jewish” about the school, save for perhaps its name, the Star of David on the school gates, the school uniform in addition to notebooks, in addition to portraits of Jewish patrons on the walls.

Authorities have made available a “changing room” for Muslim girls whose parents frown upon their stepping out in public in school skirts.

These students leave home within the burqa, change into their uniforms once in school, in addition to put on the burqa when leaving. “Our parents don’t like of which if we bare our legs,” says senior student Zara Ahmed, 17.

“The school has come to symbolize Jewish-Muslim harmony in Kolkata,” says managing trustee Aileen “Jo” Cohen.

The harmony is actually visible elsewhere too; the city’s three synagogues — the smallest of which boasts of more chairs in its prayer hall than there are Jews in Kolkata — are looked after by Muslim caretakers.

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Muslims also help with the dressing of bodies for Jewish burials in addition to outside the Magen David Synagogue, Muslim bangle sellers wearing the topi (the Muslim prayer cap), have set up kiosks on the bustling footpath.

“The close ties in addition to positive working relationships between Muslims in addition to Jews are deeply rooted within the local context of Kolkata,” says Jael Silliman, 62, a city-born Jewish scholar in addition to author, in addition to a former Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Iowa.

The first Jew to arrive in Kolkata, on August 4, 1798, was Shalom Ha-Cohen. A native of Aleppo, Syria, Shalom was initially the court jeweler to a Muslim prince in northern India.

Shalom’s prosperity attracted various other Jews by West Asia. According to community records, the population of Jews “of Arabic disposition” expanded to 0 by the 1830s. of which number stood at around 4,000 when India gained independence by British rule in 1947.

However, soon after the community started out emigrating en mass, beginning the end of a 0-year association with the city.

“A combination of national in addition to global events within the ’40s in addition to ’50s led to a very rapid dissolution of the community,” says Silliman, whose two daughters settled within the US.

With India’s independence, British settlers began returning to England, Israel came into being in May 1948, in addition to the fledgling Indian government’s Socialist policies were perceived as not being conducive to business.

Today, the number of Jews in Kolkata stands at 22, the middle-aged Alexander being probably the youngest.

in addition to of which is actually left to the likes of the Jewish Girls School Vice-Principal Abeda Razeq to keep those ties alive.

Her father’s best friend at college was a Jew, whose family runs the 115-year-old confectionary store Nahoum’s, in addition to their friendship, which continued beyond college, first exposed Razeq to Jewish culture.

The two families exchanged gift hampers during their respective festivals in addition to Razeq learnt of the similarities in addition to differences between kosher in addition to halal cuisine.

She even helped out at Nahoum’s at Easter in addition to Christmas: a Muslim girl at a Jewish bakery wrapping cakes during Christian festivals in a predominantly Hindu city.

The Nahoum family has shrunk to just one member right now, who spends much of his time abroad, in addition to the workers — many of them Muslims — run the show.

Razeq did her dissertation on Kolkata’s unique Jewish-Muslim relationship, in addition to wishes she had the time to complete her doctorate on of which.

“of which’s a rich subject,” she says.

Muslims keep alive Kolkata's Jewish schools, stores in addition to traditions

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