New Archive Sheds Light on Semitic Side of Indian Megacity1
Treasure Trove: Above, Esther ‘Pramila’ Abraham in ‘Jungle King’ (1939). Below, ‘Punjab Mail’ (1939), another film poster in the archive.

By Aruna D’Souza
Published October 25, 2014.

“Jews in India?” people exclaim when the concept is mentioned. With fewer than 30 members of the community left there, it’s sometimes hard to recall that a place like Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, was once the site of a thriving Jewish community.
Jael Silliman, a scholar and, at age 59, the youngest of this tiny enclave, is determined to keep their memory alive. The result of her efforts is a newly launched online archive, “Recalling Jewish Calcutta,” on the history of the Jewish experience in India.
Calcutta’s Jews were relative newcomers in comparison with their co-religionists in Mumbai and Cochin, the two other places in India that had significant Diaspora communities. While Jews in those cities trace their arrival as far back as the destruction of the First Temple, Jewish merchants and traders from Iraq and surrounding regions immigrated to Calcutta during the period of the British Raj. The first Baghdadi (the ethnic term used by Jews in India) Jews arrived in 1798.

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