Home > Calcutta (Kolkata), Calcutta (Kolkata) Jews, Calcutta Heritage, Cemetery, General > Restoration of Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

Restoration of Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

Kolkata Jews retrace their ancestor’s graves

Also See: Kolkata (Calcutta ) Jews

Rosemary Cohen has come all the way from Australia, with a inverted family tree. A few of the branches of the family tree stressed back to five generation. She, accompanied by her husband, was looking for the graves of her ancestors in the newly renovated Jewish Cemetery of Kolkata.

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Looking for their ancestor’s grave, Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

As we made our way through the thickly packed maze of, freshly painted, white graves of the Jewish Cemetery, Rosemary narrated her fond memories of Kolkata, the city of her birth.

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Panoramic view of Jewish Cemetery before restoration

I recalled my first experience of visiting the Jewish Cemetery way back in 2015. It was not maintained at that time and was overgrown with vegetation. Pathways were covered with thick vegetation making most of the graves inaccessible. In some places the tombs were covered completely with vegetation making it impossible to reach them. (See Also: Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata)

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Vegetation being cleared. L: Before, R: After. Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

In 2017 Joe Cohen (general secretary Jewish Community Affairs) took up the initiative of restoring the Jewish Cemetery. The vegetation have been cleared and pathways paved. The area between the thickly packed graves has been replaced by concrete.

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Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata. L: Before Restoration. M: During Restoration. R: After Restoration

The old trees, whose roots have cracked many a old grave, have been cut down but new tree line the pathways, which meanders through the cemetery. The graves have been given a fresh coat of white paints and those of mosaic have been re-polished.

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A panoramic view of the semi restored Jewish Cemetery of Kolkata

The epitaphs have been retouched and those beyond retouch condition have been replaced with new ones. Lastly the graves have been properly marked with codes, making it easy for people to retrace old graves.

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Memorial service at Jewish Cemetery by Rabbi Tzvi Rivikin

The Jewish Cemetery in Kolkata (Calcutta) is located on 45 Narekeldanga Main Road and right on the Phoolbagan crossing. The cemetery has an interesting history.

According to historical records, the first recorded Jewish immigrant to Kolkata (Calcutta) was Shalom ben Aaron ben Obadiah Ha – Cohen, in short Shalon Cohen.

He was from Aleppo, Syria and arrived in Kolkata in 1798 from Surat. Soon after the Jewish community in the city started to grow.

The first recorded Jewish death in the city happened on 1st Jan. 1812 and the community needed a cemetery as the deceased Hacham Moses needed to be buried. Shalom Cohen approached one of his business associate, a Bengali gentleman for land. He offered him a large plot of land, near the Phoolbagan crossing, completely free of cost.

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Through the walkways of Kolkata’s Jewish Cemetery

But Cohen refused to accept the land for free as it was supposed to be used for religious purpose. The Bengali gentleman told Cohen to pay what ever he wish, Cohen took out a gold ring from his finger and offered it as the payment for the land and the deal was sealed.

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Documenting their ancestor’s graves at the Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

On 17 Dec 2017 Kolkata witness the largest gathering of India Jews (including those settled overseas) on the occasion of the re – dedication and restoration of its two Synagogue, Bethe El and Magen David.

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Rabbi Tzvi Rivikin, with his four kids, Jewish Cemetery, Kolkata

The next day only a small fraction of the huge crowd made it to the Jewish Cemetery in Phool Bagan on the eastern part of the city.

Rabbi Tzvi Rivikin, who has come all the way from Bangalore, held a small memorial and prayer service at the corner of the huge cemetery.

Then it was time for grave hunting and the present Kolkata Jews was also very much part of it.

The pathways were well laid out the graves properly marked but still the huge size of the cemetery made it difficult to locate the graves.

Shalome Isreal, ex caretaker of the Jewish Cemetery, took an active part in locating the graves. He was born in Kolkata and spent 41 years of his life in the city, before leaving for Israel only in 2015.

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Panoramic view of the Jewish Cemetery in Kolkata

Special Thanks: A special thanks Jo Cohen (general secretary Jewish Community Affairs) for constant update on the Jewish Cemetery and also for allowing me to photo document the entire process.

Note:

  • The Jewish Cemetery at Phoolbagan on Narkeldanga Main Road can only be visited with a prior permission from Ms A M Cohen, General Secretary, Jewish Community Affairs from the Jewish Girls School, Kolkata

 

 

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  1. February 6, 2018 at 8:15 AM

    Nice to know about the Jewish Cemetry and the gathering that took place.

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