Revealed: Mumbai's 2 best synagogues
I recently stumbled on to the fact that Masjid Bunder -- the second last station on the Central railway line before C.S.T. -- was actually named after a synagogue.
A synagogue is called mashid in Hindi. But locals at the time eventually turned mashid into masjid i.e. a mosque, and thus the name Masjid Bunder.
It is interesting to see how history gets distorted, in the process of Mumbai assimilating various cultures and religions.
This synagogue at Masjid Bunder is the oldest synagogue in Mumbai, dating back to 1796.
It's called the Gate of Mercy Synagogue, Shaar Harahamim in Hebrew or Dayeche Dvaar in Marathi.
The synagogue is five minutes' away from Masjid Bunder station on a street named after its founder -- Samuel Street.
I am walking into an area known as the Israel moholla, when I spot the six-cornered Star of David at the entrance to the Gate of Mercy Synagogue.
Three policemen are seated outside.
Because of the targeted attack on the Jews at Chabad House, Nariman Point during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, every synagogue in Mumbai now has 24-hour police security.
I walk past the friendly cops and meet the synagogue's caretaker, Emmanuel Samuel.
Samuel's synagogue is quiet and peaceful, with a breeze he describes as "mithi," or sweet.
There is a huge lamp overhead that's supposed to be kept burning all day and night.
I also get a peek behind the intricate wooden panel, where the holy book, the Torah, is placed.
I learn that the Jews in Mumbai have been particularly successfully at integrating. They often speak fluent Marathi, as well as adding an additional Maharashtrian surname to their Hebrew names.
Samuel and I spoke about the Jewish luni-solar calendar, why the New Year greeting reads: "Happy New Year 5770" and many other things.
There are no charges to enter here, but donations are welcome and crucial to preserve this piece of heritage in Mumbai.
Visit the Gate of Mercy Synagogue before 2 p.m. while Samuel is around.
Next stop: Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Kala Ghoda
The next stop is the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Colaba, built in 1884 by Jacob Sassoon of the Mumbai Sassoon family, who also built the Sassoon Docks.
Don’t follow the directions on Google Maps as they will take you to Ballard Pier instead of Kala Ghoda. Typical!
The large light-blue building in the smaller lane to the left of Rhythm House is unmissable.
As soon as I enter I notice some photographs in the hallway. This is the synagogue that Madonna visited when she came to Mumbai in 2008.
Inside is Victorian stained glass and heavy teak wood benches. Ladies sit separately during the religious service on the upper floor.
Many years ago most synagogues in the city were full to capacity during festivals. Now most synagogues cannot match those numbers as thousands of Jewish Indians moved to Israel after its formation in 1948, leaving only about 4,000 Jews in Mumbai.
Which makes Mumbai's deserted synagogues much more important to catalogue. And the synagogue can make a little money off it -- they charge Rs 100 for photographers and Rs 150 for videographers to shoot here.