Calcutta’s Synagogues Are a Model of Muslim-Jewish Comity

Dec. 27 2017

Once home to a sizable Jewish community founded by Iraqi Jews in the 18th century, Calcutta now has only twenty-three Jews. Yet three of the city’s historic synagogues, two of which were recently restored, are maintained by local Muslims. Tanmay Chatterjee writes:

At Magen David, [built in 1884 and South] Asia’s biggest Jewish prayer building, featuring a 165-feet-high steeple, Rabbul Khan represents the third generation of a family of “caretakers” hailing from the adjoining state of Odisha. At Nave Shalom, [Calcutta’s oldest synagogue], thirty-five-year-old Masood Hussain, also from Odisha, is the newest among the caretakers but never forgets to offer skullcaps to visitors.

“Miyazan Khan, my grandfather, worked here all his life and my father Ibrahim Khan served for 50 years,” says Rabbul Khan as he tends to some glass candelabra inside the prayer hall. . . . Don’t his friends and family object to his working at a synagogue? “Nobody ever uttered a word. We all live like family here,” comes a firm reply.

Muslims on the payroll of the Jewish trusts that run the synagogues practice their own faith and share a warm relationship with the people of the neighborhood in central Calcutta. At the Jewish Girls’ School on Park Street, the students Zeba Shamim, [a Muslim], and Subhosmita Majumdar, a Bengali Hindu, feel proud to be part of a choir that sang Shalom Aleykhem at the Beth El synagogue, [built in 1856], for the first time before members of the Jewish community who arrived from Israel and other parts of the world to witness the restoration. Israel’s ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, figured among the guests.

Students from Elias Meyer Talmud Torah School, the Jewish boys’ school, also took part in the celebrations at Magen David synagogue. Oseh Shalom, a Jewish prayer for peace, was performed solo by a Muslim boy, Suharnuddin Ahmed. He was trained by his teacher, S. Nayak, a Hindu.

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More about: India, Indian Jewry, Jewish World, Muslim-Jewish relations, Synagogues

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times