By Karachi Walla
Unthinkable. Have you ever considered being friends with a Jew. Visiting a Synangogue from inside. That too, in Karachi. The construction of Magain Shalome Synagogue epitomized good old Karachi’s diversity and tolerance. Its destruction epitomized parochialism and intolernace prevalent now. The sense of loss is not only felt by once Karachite jews but by many others as evident by blog posts and flickr comments on the picture of the synagoue. The sense of loss becomes unbearable when you see the trash which has been put up in place of the synagogue.
Jews lived mainly in the Ranchor Line and Ramswami areas in Karachi and there were around 2500 Jews at the time of the partition. They were part of the larger Ben-e- Israel group of the British India. The synagoue was built to cater to this small but active community. Some accounts suggest that it was bulit by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon (Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora ) while others suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipality towards the end of 18th century. It is evident that the community despite the small number was vibrant and formed number of associations to oversee welfare and social activities of the group. The Young Man’s Jewish Association, Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund and Karachi Jewish syndicate were few such associations but they disappeared one by one as the exodus continued due to increasing tensions between Israel and the muslim world. The synagogue was the last active forum which was demolished to pave way for a distasteful commercial plaza in late 80′s. A Jewish graveyard in Mewashah is the last surviving edifice along with few signs here and there (such as David’s star on Merewether tower). Mr. Haroon Haider has done a commendable job for digging up some documents from the days the synagogue was active. Please see the entry here.
Magain Shalome was built at the corner of Jamila Street and Nishtar Road. Karachi Walla took this journey on a Saturday morning. Drive to NJV school on M.A. Jinnah road if you are coming from Merewether Tower. Turn left on Jamila Street (right after NJV School). The street has many shops that sell motorcycle and car accessories. Make a stop at next crossroad. There is a landmark you should not miss. A small building (painted bright yellow for some reason) which was used as a mitra mandal for Maharashtrans. It is yet another reminder of the diversity which Karachi enjoyed. Karachi had a population of around 3,000 Maharashtrans in 1947 but they too fled after partition. Have a sip of tea at the dhabba close by. A little further is Hassanli Hoti Market which was constructed in 1926. Its pillars and elegant front reminds us that the area has seen good days. Say hello to the shopkeepers who are waiting to start the day. Move further in the same direction away from M. A. Jinnah road. At the next crossroad is a commercial building where the synagogue stood. The area is littered with filth and dirt and jampacked during the day. A fitting landscape for a tragedy.
Majority of Karachi Jews live in Ramle, Israel now. They have built a synagogue in rememberance of Karachi synagogue. They call it Magain Shalome.