Article contributed by Sameer Khan*
Every time I pass by Ambedkar Road in Pune, I am spellbound. I marvel at the magnificence of Ohel David Synagogue or better known as Lal Deval (Red Temple).
Image from: http://www.jacobsassoon.com/synagogues/ohel-david-synagogue
The most well-known Jewish luminary and philanthropist was a Baghdadi Jew by the name of Mr. David Sassoon. His tomb remains within the compound of the synagogue. The Sassoon family was instrumental in building the Sassoon Hospital in Pune in 1867. Among the many other contributions to the Pune city of the Sassoon family are the Sassoon Hospital, Lady Rachel Sassoon Dispensary, Mechanics Institute, a library, a convalescent home and David Sassoon Vriddha Ashram in Pune. I also need to mention the number of Bene Israeli officers in the Indian army.
It was my fortune that I was invited to be a part of important Jewish festival of Passover, celebrated by the Bene Israeli community of Pune at this marvelous synagogue. Today the Jewish community in Pune primarily consists of Bene-Israeli community that remains in few hundreds. But the Jewish community's contribution towards the city of Pune far exceeds their numbers.
The Ohel David Synagogue is now under the watchful eye of police as most Jewish religious places are now guarded after the gruesome attack on Jewish Chabad House in Mumbai on 26/11 by terrorists.
A small congregation of Jews gathered at the Ohel David Synagogue to commemorate Passover, also known as Pesach. The Rabbi chanted the prayers in Hebrew, explaining the significance of the festival that marks the persecution and slavery Jews in Egypt under Pharaoh. A devote group of Jewish men, wearing Kippah or the Jewish skull cap, and Jewish women sat listening with apt attention.
A Pesach Seder ceremony followed. This is a Jewish religious meal that is part of the Passover festivities that consists of wine, roasted lamb, bitter herbs, salt water, matzah (unleavened bread), along with other things. Each of the food items have symbolism. The idea is so that one can understand the importance of their past.
Mr. Solomon Pezarkar who is an ex-Indian army personal and his son Shifron Pezarkar are two of the prominent personalities of the Pune Jewish community. They have been striving hard to address the issues concerning the small but very important community in Pune. Mr. Shifron Pezarkar expressed regret that some important issues related to Pune Jewish community have not been addressed by the civic authorities. For example, Ohel David Synagogue, which is one of the landmarks in Pune, celebrates its 150 anniversary this year. The community had requested that the city authorities paint the historic structure for the commemoration of the 150 anniversary but their pleas went on deaf ears. The Jewish community also has been requesting streetlights for the area outside the Koregaon Park Jewish Cemetery but that request has also not been addressed.
So far none of the politicians have addressed any of the issues concerning the Jewish community. Perhaps the reason is that Jewish community is not large in numbers and are not a significant voting bloc. Their numbers remain far less important when we look at their history and contribution towards the city of Pune and the significant role they played in the development of this city.
The Jewish Community of Pune remains one of the prominent and important aspects of the city. It deserves all the respect and a rightful place in the future and heritage of the city.
Sameer Khan is an Independent writer, playwright and author. He can be contacted on Twitter @samkhan999.