Tag: Jews of India

Baghdadi Bollywood actresses immortalised on embassy mural

Israel’s embassy in New Delhi, India, unveiled on Monday a street-art mural marking 30 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries and paying tribute to three famous Indian-Jewish actresses, The Algemeiner reports (with thanks:Edna):

The new mural at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi

The Israel Embassy in India collaborated with the Delhi Street Art initiative to create the mural honoring Pramila (a stage name for actress Esther Victoria Abraham), Sulochana (Ruby Myers) and Nadira (Florence Ezekiel). These actresses, all of Iraqi-Jewish descent, “made a mark in the early years of Indian cinema,” a plaque near the mural reads.

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Baghdadis in Bollywood (Harif Zoom)


Today is the festival of Purim

With thanks: Shalva

The Festival of Purim falls today : we read the Scroll of Esther and the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people.

This beautiful scroll with an engraved silver handle was sold off some years back in a public auction.

It belonged to Reuben Sassoon of Bombay, India, and was written and illustrated in the mid-nineteenth century by the scribe Yitzchak Meir Gabbai of Baghdad, where the Sassoons originated before the head of the family David Sassoon migrated to Bombay in 1832.

Hag Purim Sameah to all readers who celebrate it!

Harif event on Mini-Purims

The rise and fall of the Sassoon dynasty

Baghdad-born David Sassoon built a global business empire in the 19th century centered on India and the Far East, but within three generations, the fortune his family made was dissipated, and his descendants were more focused on enjoying their social lives. Now a distant relative,  academic Joseph Sassoon has deciphered  an archive of Judeo-Arabic correspondence which throws new light on the Sassooon enterprise. The result is his new book, The Global Merchants: the Enterprise and Extravagance of the Sassoon Dynasty. Review in The Guardian: 

The Prince of Wales visiting the Sassoon residence in Bombay, ‘Sans souci’, in 1876

By the end of the 19th century, the Sassoon family were regularly referred to as “the Rothschilds of the East”. This wasn’t just lazy, it was wrong. For one thing the Sassoons’ interests and influence stretched right around the world from Shanghai via Bombay, London and Lancashire, all the way to the Atlantic coastal plain of the United States. Then there was the fact that, unlike the Rothschilds, the Sassoons were not bankers but traders, specialising in opium, cotton and oil. What perhaps the late Victorians really meant when they compared the Sassoons to the Rothschilds was simply this: they were very rich and they were Jewish, a combination that conjured ambivalent feelings not just in “polite” society through which antisemitism flowed like a subterranean river but, over time, in the Sassoons themselves.

Joseph Sassoon, who is a descendant of the dynasty’s founder David, believes that it was his family’s experience as serial immigrants that drove their success and explains their decline. Their original role as treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad meant that they seamlessly acquired the Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Persian that equipped them to do business throughout the vast Ottoman empire. When in 1828 they were forced to flee to Bombay as a result of a pogrom, they quickly added Hindustani to their repertoire and settled down to rebuild their lives, using their tried and tested methods of exemplary ethics and ferocious hard work.

In order to avoid a repeat of that first expulsion, though, the family needed to become adept at reading the political landscape and adapting accordingly. Joseph Sassoon points out that the treaty marking the passing of India’s governance from the East India Company to Queen Victoria in 1859 was signed not in the residence of the outgoing governor but in “Sans Souci”, the home owned by the man whom the Illustrated London News described as “Mr David Sassoon, the well-known wealthy Jew Merchant of Bombay and China”. In the face of such antisemitic sneers, these early Sassoons were careful not to draw unwanted attention to themselves. While their fortune was one of the great wonders of the industrialising world, it was offset by a thoughtful philanthropy that built hospitals, libraries and schools for the whole community.

These productive years as “good immigrants” did not last, and it is the Sassoons’ fall from fortune that gives this somewhat dry family history its emotional heart and narrative pace. Within a hundred years of hosting diplomatic milestones, younger members of the family were pawning their jewellery and filing for bankruptcy. It is, Joseph Sassoon thinks, a story of assimilation and gentrification going hand in hand with the dissipation of cultural capital.

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FT review (with thanks: Miro)


‘Exceptional’ Sassoon treasures to be auctioned off

Got a million dollars to spare? You might like to spend the money on a sumptuous Torah silver and gilt breastplate. This and other treasures from the collectionof the Sassoon family, the Baghdadi Jews who established a business empire from India to the Far East  – will be going to auction at Sotheby’s in New York in December. Other items include an annotated siddur and the tefillin belonging to the Ben Ish Hai, and a rare handwritten work by Maimonides copied by Yemenite scribes in the 15th century. The 12th century Farhi bible is not up for sale.  The Jewish Chronicle reports (with thanks: Alain):

A Torah breastplate, expected to fetch between half a million and 800,000 dollars at auction

Prized artefacts from the Sassoon family collection will go on sale in New York this December, including two pieces billed as the most important pieces of Judaic metalwork to be brought to auction in a generation.
Sixty eight pieces from the Sassoons – known as the “Rothschilds of the East” – will include rare silvers, Hebrew manuscripts, textiles dating from the 11th to the 20th centuries. 

 The centrepieces of the lot will be two highly decorative 18th century silver Torah shieldswhich originate from Lviv in modern-day Ukraine and, according to the auction house, Sotheby’s, can be attributed to Jewish silversmith Elimelekh Tzoref. When a similar shield was sold in Tel Aviv in 2000 it achieved the then record-breaking price of almost $800,000 (£927,000 today). 

 Also on sale is a Siddur once owned by Rabbi Joseph Hayyim, a 19th century master kabbalist and halachic authority for Iraqi Jewry – expected to fetch up to $200,000 (£153,000). Rabbi Hayyim’s tefillin – said to be the only ones known to still exist – will also be on offer. 

 “The exceptional pieces in this sale are treasures of one the world’s greatest Jewish dynasties and significant works of art which tell an important story of Jewish patronage, collecting and scholarship at the highest level,” said Sharon Liberman Mintz, Senior Consultant of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

 “Not only are the Silver and Hebrew manuscripts some of the finest objects to ever come to market, they are further distinguished by their unparalleled provenance to generations of members from this legendary family.” 

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Indian Jew attacked for ‘spreading corona virus’

While the coronavirus crisis has for many brought about a sense of solidarity in adversity, there have been distressing instances of racism in Israel, such as the odd attack against Asian Jews. +972 magazine *reports:

Bnei Menashe women in Israel

Last Saturday, Am Shalem Singson, a 28-year-old yeshiva student, was walking toward downtown Tiberias with some friends when two Israeli men scrunched up their nose and called them “corona, corona.”

Singson told them that he wasn’t even from China, but India — he and his friends are Bnei Menashe, a community of Indian Jews, several thousand of whom live in Israel. But the men, angry at being questioned, first shoved, then repeatedly kicked him. Singson had to undergo surgery for severe injuries to his chest and lungs.

 Singson, who is still recovering in the hospital, believes that the novel coronavirus pandemic has become a catalyst for racists to escalate their bigotry. “They don’t want to live with us, they just want to fight,” he says. “They take advantage [of the situation] using coronavirus…and it’s not just me, many people face this.”

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The story was also reported in the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post


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