Tag Archives: Pakistan

Whatever happened to the Jews of Pakistan?

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From Point of No Return:

Mystery has long surrounded the Jews of Pakistan, and this blog has attracted dozens in search of information about them. Finally, Shalva Weil has written a comprehensive history of this community in the Pakistan Press – Canada. The last Jew, Rachel Joseph, died in 2006. (With thanks to an Anonymous reader)

Pakistan was never traditionally antisemitic. In fact, it may come as a surprise that Pakistan hosted small, yet thriving, Jewish communities from the 19th century until the end of the 1960s. Recently, Yoel Reuben, a Pakistani Jew living in the Israeli town of Lod whose family originated in Lahore, documented some of the history of the Jewish communities with photographs of original documents.

When India and Pakistan were one country, before the partition in 1947, the Jews were treated with tolerance and equality. In the first half of the 20th century, there were nearly 1,000 Jewish residents in Pakistan living in different cities: Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Lahore. The largest Jewish community lived in Karachi, where there was a large synagogue and a smaller prayer hall. There were two synagogues in Peshawar, one small prayer hall in Lahore belonging to the Afghan Jewish community, and one prayer hall in Quetta. Even today, according to unofficial sources, there are rumors that some Jews remain in Pakistan, including doctors and members of the free professions, who converted or passed themselves off as members of other religions.

The Jews of Pakistan were of various origins, but most were from the Bene Israel community of India, and came to Pakistan in the employ of the British. Yifah, a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, relates that her great-great-grandfather Samuel Reuben Bhonkar, who was a Bene Israel, came to Karachi in British India to work as a jailer, and died there in 1928. The Bene Israel originated in the Konkan villages, but many moved to Bombay from the end of the 18th century on. In Pakistan, they spoke Marathi, their mother tongue from Maharashtra; Urdu, the local language; and most spoke English. Prayers were conducted in Hebrew. In 1893, a Bene Israel from Bombay, Solomon David Umerdekar, inaugurated the Karachi Magen Shalom Synagogue on the corner of Jamila Street and Nishtar Road, which officially opened in 1912. [READ THE REST/ORIGINAL]

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Bangladesh honours retired Jewish general

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Via Point of No Return:

The unlikely hero of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, resulting in the creation of Bangladesh, is a Jew of Iraqi origin, Lt JFR Jacob. This year, at long last, the Bangladeshi government has decided to honour him. Hindu human rights activist Ranbir Sekhon reports in The Conservative Papers:

Eventually India intervened and defeated the Pakistan forces. The result was the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. But what is less well know is the role played by one of India’s most celebrated military brass.

Lt Gen (Retd) JFR Jacob had taken part in the Independence War of Bangladesh in 1971. Belatedly the Sheikh Hasina government has decided to honour Jacob by requesting him to witness the Independence and National Day programmes to be held at National Parade Square on March 26 in Dhaka, staying here from March 24 to 27.  [READ THE REST/ORIGINAL]

The Jews of Pakistan

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Point of No Return, which mainly focuses on Jews from Arab lands, has some interesting posts on Pakistan. Here are some links and extracts.

Our culture is lost, says Pakistani Jew’s descendant

Karachi synagogue in the 1970s

The history and plight of Pakistan’s vanished Jews has elicited much interest on this blog, especially from Pakistani Muslims.Point of No Return was therefore excited to hear from Yifa Yaacov, the great grand-daughter of a Karachi Jew called Rachael. But we were also sad to learn from Yifa that their specific culture has been lost to Jews like herself. Yifa invites comments from interested readers:

“I am the great-granddaughter of a Karachi Jew named Rachael. Her father was a jailer in Karachi. She moved to Mumbai and Gujarat and died in Ahmedabad in 1973. My great-grandfather, a Maharashtran Jew, died in Israel. I visited her grave this past summer. It touched me deeply and I started to learn Urdu (maybe I will get to Marathi someday). I only wish I could visit Rachaelbai’s birthplace in Karachi. What kind of a world is it where a great-granddaugher cannot see the birthplace of the great-grandmother after whom she is named. […]

Karachi’s Jewish cemetery in dire need of repair

There are nearly 5,000 graves at the Bani Israel cemetery in Karachi, Pakistan. (photo: Huma Imtiaz/The Express Tribune)
The Pakistani journalist Mahim Maher always wanted to be Jewish– not a popular thing to be in today’s Pakistan. The few Jews have all disappeared, or claim to be Christians. The 5,000-grave cemetery in Karachi is in desperate need of repair, she writes in her Jewish Journal blog:

In the heart of Karachi, amidst the sounds of traffic and the ever-present smog, one can hear shouts of bus conductors calling out “Tower, Tower!” The object of their affection is the 19th century Merewether Tower on II Chundrigar Road, dwarfed now by tall buildings in the city’s busy financial area, but still unique due to its design. In the middle of the tower is an engraved Star of David, set in stone. Some upholder of religion has thoughtfully spray painted Yahoodi (Jew) on the tower, perhaps to mark it for demolition in the future.[…]

Pakistan’s problem with the Jews

A Jewish family in Karachi (Photo: Dawn)

Tufail Ahmad traces the development of antisemitism in another Muslim country without Jews – Pakistan. Hateful ideological sloganeering by Pakistan’s leaders makes little distinction between Jews and Israel’s policies, Ahmad writes. Via Memri (with thanks: Lily)

Historical records indicate that Jews, with no connection to the Pashtuns, have lived in Pakistan and the wider South Asian region over the past several centuries. A 2007 report in the Pakistani dailyDawn noted: “The earliest graves… [of Jews in Karachi] are from 1812 and 1814, with a vast majority from the 1950s.”[2] The report also cited Aitken’s Gazetteer of the Province of Sind, a British-era government document which was published from Karachi in 1907, as recording that “there were only 428 Jews enumerated in the census of 1901, and these were really all in Karachi. Many belonged to the Bene Israel community who observed Sephardic Jewish rites and are believed to have settled in India [which included Pakistan] shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus [the Roman Emperor in 69 AD].”[3][…]