The Jewish community played a significant role in the mercantile development of the city. Now with only around 30 of its members remaining, an urgent effort is on to salvage its history
It is perhaps not surprising that the last conductor of the now-defunct Calcutta Symphony Orchestra should have been Bernard “Bunny” Jacob. After all, the culturally vibrant capital of West Bengal is home to people from all over the world, among them the Jews. Jacob’s Jewish community made the city its home around two centuries ago, and, till the 1970s, there were around 600 of them living there. Today, their number has dwindled to just under 30.
That is a number that is inadequate even to hold prayers at the two synagogues in the city. A Shabbat service requires at least 10 men to be present, but there aren’t so many worshippers left in the city. After about 30 years, prayers were recently held when the Israeli embassy brought some visitors, who, along with the few men in the city, formed a quorum for a Shabbat service.
Perhaps the most famous Jewish person in the city, David Nahoum passed away in March last year. Nahoum had been the city’s official “fruit cake man”, lording it over Nahoum & Sons Pvt Ltd Dainty Confectionery in the maze-like New Market. The shop was a landmark, and direction seekers often asked shopkeepers, “Dada, Nahoum ta kon dike? (Which way is Nahoum?)”. For almost a century, this dimly-lit shop enticed visitors with its almond macaroons and cheese straws. “Once Nahoum’s shuts its doors, its famous delicacies, like the cheese samosa, will be lost forever,” rues Jo Cohen, secretary of Jewish Community Affairs.
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