Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pakistani Jew awaits her day in court

from the Jewish Chronicle (by Patrick Belton):

There are still some Jews living in Karachi, though their number has decreased from 2,500 at the time of independence, according to a report in a Jewish publication. One of them has filed a suit to be given land that was promised when the city’s synagogue was demolished under Ziaul Haq.

Most of them pass as Parsees, says the British publication Jewish Chronicle, because they “like to keep quiet”. However, a destitute and frail woman of 88, Rachel Joseph is the sole surviving custodian of the community’s synagogue, even though it was destroyed almost 20 years ago. Magain Shalome once stood at the corner of Jamila Street and Nishtar Road. It was demolished in July 1988 by order of President Ziaul Haq, to make way for a shopping plaza. Ms Joseph is suing the property developers who built it, saying they promised her space for another synagogue, and a flat to live in while she tended it. Meanwhile, she looks after the community’s graveyard, in the Mewa Shah neighbourhood. The shul was built in 1893 by Bene Israel from Maharashtra, who came to work in the civil service the railroads and pressing coconut oil with Baghdadi Jews from Bombay.

Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar also had communities, but Karachi’s importance as a Jewish centre was such that the All-India Israelite League convened there in 1918. With independence came pogroms and Israeli independence in May 1948 saw the Karachi synagogue set on fire. Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto is supposed to have said, “To Jews as Zionists, intoxicated with their militarism and reeking with technological arrogance, we refuse to be hospitable.” According to Rachel Khafi, an American whose grandfather, Benjamin Khafi, organised the departure of Jews from Peshawar, “My grandfather went from door to door, from Jew to Jew, to tell them that they had to leave the town.” The numbers in Karachi halved during the Suez Crisis and again with the Six-Day War, though communal life continued throughout the 1970s. Over 630 Karachi families now live in Ramla, Lod and Beersheba in Israel. Older members still speak Urdu or Marathi. “They are not the most integrated of communities in Israel,” said the Hebrew University’s Dr Shalva Weil, an expert on Jews of the subcontinent.


bataween said...

Interesting that this same article appeared verbatim in this week's Jewish Chronicle under the byline of Patrick Belton

Adam Holland said...

Thanks for the correction! It looks like the Pakistan Daily Times employee who posted the piece on their website was credited while the author was not.

I will correct the byline and link to the Jewish Chronicle. Apologies to Mr. Belton.


adamhollandblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com