KOLKATA: The Jewish built heritage in Kolkata mirrors the plight of the dwindling community. But now, the Archeological Survey of India is throwing it a lifeline.

The ASI on Friday promised to “protect and project the glory of the Jewish community” by renovating the monuments built a hundred years ago. Regional director of ASI (east) P K Mishra visited three synagogues on Friday along with the gritty Aline M Cohen, who has been battling every odd to conserve Jewish monuments in the city.

Healing touch for Jewish heritageTwo of these – Beth El Synagogue and Maghen David Synagogue – are nationally protected monuments but the third, Shalome Synagogue, is unprotected although it is equally important to the community’s history and heritage. It stands next to the Maghen David structure.

Mishra announced plans for a unique Jewish tourism circuit in the city, which will begin with a festival-cum-fair to exhibit the unique facets of Jewish life and culture. The Jewish community will itself restore Neveh Shalome Synagogue, which marked its centenary in 2011.

“Apart from their rich history, these monuments, speak eloquently of the great cultural melting pot the city is. Many communities came and settled here and left their indelible mark in the form of these monuments. But I am afraid after Aline M Cohen, there will be hardly anyone to tell the stories behind these magnificent structures,” said Mishra.

His concern is not unfounded – the Jewish community in Kolkata now numbers 25 from a high of 6,000 during World War II.

“Thus it is important to look for the history of Jewish community in the city. We need to add cultural text tags at these synagogues. Otherwise, people won’t be interested to see these sites,” he remarked. ASI wants better communication between the community and conservators.

In fact, most Kolkatans are not aware of these synagogues, tucked away as they are behind office buildings and hawker stalls in Canning Street and Pollock Street.

Aline Cohen was excited by the idea of Jewish tourism circuit. “There is no dearth of elements for developing it. Apart from these five independent synagogues in the city, there are the Jewish cemetery and a girls’ school,” she said.

The Beth El and Maghen David Synagogues were declared national monuments and brought under ASI protection in 2003. It isn’t easy for tourists to access these monuments because of security restrictions.

Last week, the chairperson of National Monument Authority (NMA), professor Himanshu Prabha Ray, was almost denied access. There was a hue and cry over it. “We are streamlining the system. We are setting up a door-frame metal detector, a surveillance system and bag counter to make things easy for tourists and the monuments safer,” said Mishra.

The Jewish community has a special place in Kolkata’s heart. The first recorded Jewish immigrant to Kolkata was Shalome Cohen in 1798 from Aleppo ( Syria). The most influential Jewish family in Kolkata was perhaps the father-son real estate magnates of David Joseph Ezra and Elia David Ezra, who founded the Jewish Girls School. The confectioner Nahoum’s in New Market is still a top draw.

The independence of India in 1947 and the birth of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 marked the decline of Jewish population in Calcutta (Kolkata). Today the only about 30 Jews are left in the city. The Beth El Synagogue built in 1856, is located on Pollack Street while the Magen David Synagogue built in 1884 is located at the junction of Brabourne Road and Cannig Street (Biplabi Rashbehari Road).

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