Jews of India

Perhaps for as long as two millennia, there have been Jewish communities throughout much of South Asia. Most have been in such port cities as Surat, Kochi (formerly Cochin), Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

The fabled community at Kochi is very old, dating at least from the early medieval period if not ancient times, having enjoyed centuries of harmonious relationships with neighboring Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain and Zoroastrian (called Parsi in India) neighbors.

A community of legendary origin living as oil pressers and merchants along the Konkan Coast located south of Mumbai emerged in the Jewish world about 250 years ago. Known at the Bene Israel, once they moved to Mumbai, they became modern, urbane Jews and formed the largest Indian Jewish community.

One Jewish community, known locally as "Baghdadis," was more or less co-terminus with the British raj and prospered in Indian port cities, especially Mumbai, Kolkata, and Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Other communities have emerged as recently as the past several decades, Judaizing movements that have, on occasion, been blended into the worldwide fabric of the Jewish people.

Some Indian Jewish communities have been fleeting, such as Ashkenazi refugees from European Nazism, or Persian-speaking Mughul courtiers and merchants plying their wares from Kabul to Dehi. Another is the ephemeral quasi-Jewish life among Israeli backpackers who have made Goa and other resorts a home of sorts that has, in turn, impacted secular Israeli culture.

Taken by Ellen S. Goldberg, these photographs, which illustrate a number of Jewish communities throughout India, reflect their rich, distinct cultures and traditions.

Jews of Kochi (formerly Cochin)

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Jews of Bene Ephraim (Jews of Kothareddy Palem)

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