Calcutta was the main commercial hub of India during the British rule and naturally it attracted many trading communities, including the Jews. The history of the Jews in Calcutta dates back to the eighteenth century, most of whom were Bagdadi Jews. Today, they are a disappearing lot. Once, during the heyday of the Jewish settlement in Kolkata, the community was 6,000 strong. But their number declined drastically after the formation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948.
There was a day when the Jewish community had five independent synagogues in Kolkata, out of which today only two are declared as protected monuments and they are looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The Shield of David Synagogue, popularly known in the community as Magen David, is located on Synagogue Street, at the crossing of Brabourne Road and Canning Street (BRBRoad). Its 140 feet high clock tower still dominates the Calcutta skyline. But sadly enough, not many Calcuttans are aware of its existence and it is often mistaken as a church. It was built in 1884 by Elias David Joseph Ezra, in memory of his father, David Joseph Ezra.
Elias David Joseph Ezra was one of the eminent and powerful real estate tycoons of that time. He is associated with some of the famous buildings of Calcutta like the Ezra Mansion, Chowringee mansion and Esplanade mansion. Many of us are not aware of the fact that, Ezra Street is actually named after him.
Constructed in the Italian Renaissance style with strong British Influence, Megan David Synagogue has a brick red finish. Its entrance is through an arched door, containing the hexagonal Star of David at the top with some Hebrew inscriptions. The two side walls contain many plaques dedicated to the memory of the well known Jews of Calcutta. Though the services of the Synagogue have stopped long ago, the interior is well maintained.
The checkered marble floor with adequate seating arrangements, hanging bright graceful chandeliers, stained glass windows and the ornate floral pillars added an impressive look to its dignified regal beauty. The altar of the Megen David Synagogue is crowned with a semi circular dome, known as the Apse, which is studded with stars and known to represent the heaven. The Ten Commandments is inscribed on a large plaque in the middle. Apart from several other Hebrew inscriptions and other items of Jewish Iconography, it also contains the seven branched lamp stand of the Menorah.
Interestingly, all the caretakers of this place are Muslims. The International Arab Israeli conflicting relationship could not diminish the trust and reverence they have for each other in Kolkata.
Location of Magen David Synagogue