(This article [without the graphics] was originally published in Nehardeya Magazine).
Baghdadi Jews had sailed down the Persian Gulf to Surat, the trading center on the west coast of India, since the mid-18th century for the purpose of trade, often returning home after a few years. It was not till the next century that Baghdadis gradually settled in Bombay and Poona. These communities were then set on a firm foundation by the house of David Sassoon in the second half of the nineteenth century, and by his grandson Jacob Eliyahu Sassoon in the early twentieth century.
David Sassoon himself had to flee Baghdad in 1826 from the oppression of the governor and Wali of Baghdad, the extortioner Daud Pasha, first to Bushire in Persia, then with his family to Bombay in India, where under British rule there was freedom of worship, expanding opportunities for trade, and a good education for the childrern. Starting cautiously, in the course of time and extensive family business developed, while the spiritual and religious traditions of Baghdad were always closely maintained. With increasing wealth, the Sassoons gave huge sums to both Jewish and public institutions.
David Sassoon built fine synagogues in extensive grounds, – the Magen David Synagogue in Byculla, Bombay, and the Ohel David Synagogue, a landmark in Poona, a resort town 120 miles from Bombay. Later his grandson, Jacob Eliyahu Sassoon, built the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in the Bombay Fort area, naming it for his father Eliyahu (David Sassoon’s second son). In all three synagogues “Nosah Baghdad” (the Baghdadi mode of prayer) was followed. Hakhamim came from Baghdad and contacts were maintained with the Baghdad Beth Din.
The Magen David Synagogue
The Ohel-David Synagogue
- The Ohel David Synagogue
The synagogue was built by David Sassoon in 1863 in Poona, where he had his resort home. The synagogue is a well known landmark in Poona, of impressive architecture in spacious grounds in a central location in Poona cantonment. It is popularly known as Lal Dewil (the Red Temple), as it is built of red brick, – a fine, large structure with a clock tower and 90 foot spire, and a bell that chimed the hours. The interior is equally beautiful with stained glass windows and, again in the Baghdad style, with “tebah” and “hekhal”, arches and the women’s gallery.
David Sassoon’s Poona home, where he died in 1864 much mourned by Jews and Indians alike, was across the street from the synagogue. His sons buried him in the synagogue grounds in a fine mausoleum. The synagogue and mausoleum were visited by the President of India, Dr. Zakir Hussein, at a special Memorial Service on 10 December 1968, on the occasion of the Centenary celebration of the Sassoon General Hospitals in Poona established by the Sassoons.
The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue
The synagogue was filled to capacity during the High Holidays, particularly with the influx from Bukhara, Persia, and then numbers from Iraq after the Farhud in 1941. Additional services were then held for the Iraqi community in the neighbouring Cawasjee Jehangir Public Hall for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
In conclusion, all three synagogues played a central part in the life of their communities, and are very dear to all who worshipped in them. While very few Baghdadis now remain in Bombay and Poona, the synagogue buildings are well maintained and services continue to be held with minyanim composed of Baghdadis and the Bene-Israel community.
qanun il nisa, kanun il nisa, hukei hanashim, shimon bar yochai, ben ish chai, rabbi yosef chaim from baghdad, yishaq, yishak abinu, yitzhak, yitzchak avinu, avraham avinu, avrohom ovinu, rivka imenu, eliezer, charan, women’s torah, rabbanit ruth menashe, rebbetzin ruth menashe, midrash ben ish hai, midrash ben ish chai