Recalling Jewish Calcutta
About this talk
With the use of slides
and audio-visual images, I will present the story of our community, which came to
Calcutta, then the seat of the British empire, to seek their fortunes. These Arabic speaking Jews from the Middle East made Calcutta their home for two hundred years.
Though small in number, never more than 4000 Jews, they made an indelible
impression on the mercantile city.
They flourished in every field of endeavor - there were business magnates, sheriffs, religious scholars, movie stars and teachers, and some even rose to the highest ranks of the Indian army. Though immensely successful in the multicultural city, and never facing any discrimination, global events of the 1940s and 50's led to an exodus from the city. They sought their futures in England, Australia, America, Canada and Israel and were able to successfully rebuild their lives. There are only a handful of Jews left in Calcutta today but there are 3 synagogues, two of which are quite magnificent, 2 schools and a sprawling cemetery.
Jael Silliman was a tenured Associate Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Iowa, USA. She was also a Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, New York. She is the author of several books, scholarly papers and popular articles for newspapers and magazines on gender, development, race, social justice and women's rights issues. She writes about her community - the Baghdadi Jews of Calcutta. Her books relating to Kolkata cultural history include Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women's Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope, two novels, The Man With Many Hats and The Teak Almirah and numerous scholarly as well as popular articles. Her most recent co-authored publication is Where Gods Reside: Kolkata's Scared Places and Adda! The College Street Coffee House. She now lives mostly in Kolkata.
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