November 5, 2013
New pic for Karachi’s cool Yahudi past
In September 2005, Sam Ser of The Jerusalem Post wrote about a letter they had received by a man saying he was one of Pakistan’s last remaining Jews.
(This para corrects an earlier date and details of the letter.)
Sam Ser wrote that Akhir wrote that he held prayer services in his home for the other Jews of Karachi. Although he and his fellow Jews there could practice their religion openly if they wished to, Akhir wrote, "We have loved the life of anonymity."
The letter was picked up by a journalist here, Adil Najam, who wrote about it and Pakistan’s Jews (‘Where have Pakistan’s Jews gone?’ Daily Times, September 16, 2005)
Caption: Two photos of the interior of the Magen Shalom synagogue on Nishtar street in Karachi. The sepia-toned one I found in the book 'Sindh: Past glory, present nostalgia'. It says the synagogue was built in 1893. The photo on top is via http://haroonhaider.files.wordpress.com and the sepia one from a Diana Reuben
This letter and the subsequent writings around it reminded Karachi of its Jewish past, which has been documented to a certain extent. Of course if you speak to some of the older journalists and writers, historians, they will tell you stories. But in general the average Karachi wallah did not much think about this part of our history. In my memory, this was the start of a consciousness of a past we had buried for a long time.
Caption: I took this photo at the Jewish Museum in London this July/Aug. It is of an Indian Jewish family, or members of the Bene Israel. It reminds me that they were, actually, just like me.
You can gauge the interest in this part of Karachi's past by the fact that a group of youngsters staged a 20-minute play, The lost Jews of Karachi, written and directed by Veera Rustomji at the Alliance Francaise Karachi in November 2012
I have been working on gathering the pieces to this puzzle for a while. Some research can't be shared here as I feel that parts of this history could come under attack from extremists in Karachi. Perhaps some secrets should just stay like that. But then, again, perhaps we will see a better day when the people of Karachi will be able to embrace their past no matter what God it believed in.