Bom­bay: Explor­ing the Jew­ish Urban Heritage

Shaul Sapir
  • Review
By – September 29, 2014

These two books pro­vide rich­ly illus­trated descrip­tions of the var­ied and fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of the very small Jew­ish pop­u­la­tions in India. Both touch only briefly on the groups with the longest tenure, the Bnei Israel and the Jews liv­ing in Cochin. In West­ern Jews in India, Ken­neth X. Rob­bins and Mar­vin Tokay­er con­cen­trate on the var­i­ous con­tri­bu­tions of West­ern Jews, most of whom were sojourn­ers or made contribu­tions with­out actu­al­ly liv­ing there for long peri­ods of time. For the most part, they were scat­tered and did not cre­ate long-last­ing com­mu­ni­ties and either as­similated or con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty, Islam, or Hin­duism. The ear­li­est were refugees from the Span­ish and Por­tuguese expul­sions. West­ern Jews in India describes the role of Jew­ish sol­diers and offi­cials from the British Empire. More recent­ly, three Jew­ish archi­tects (Lewis Kahn, Moshe Safdie, and Sid­ney Epstein) designed major build­ings in the sub­con­ti­nent. The book includes many pho­tographs from the exten­sive col­lec­tion of Dr. Rob­bins, who wrote most of the indi­vid­ual articles. 

Shaul Sapir’s Bom­bay: Explor­ing the Jew­ish Urban Her­itage describes the Bagh­dadis who arrived in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and pros­pered in trad­ing and the emerg­ing tex­tile indus­try. Most lived in present-day Mum­bai. Sapir includes infor­ma­tion and pho­tos on var­i­ous com­mu­nal insti­tu­tions, focus­ing on the built envi­ron­ment rather than their cul­ture, cus­toms, and lives. Sev­er­al fam­i­lies — most notably the Sas­sons — pros­pered and estab­lished a broad array of com­mu­nal institu­tions described and illus­trat­ed in the book.

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Susan M. Cham­bré, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta of Soci­ol­o­gy at Baruch Col­lege, stud­ies Jew­ish phil­an­thropy, social and cul­tur­al influ­ences on vol­un­teer­ing, and health advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions. She is the author of Fight­ing for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Com­mu­ni­ty and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ease and edit­ed Patients, Con­sumers and Civ­il Soci­ety.

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