By: Syed Haroon Haider Gilani
Magen Shalom (earlier it was spelled as “Magain Shalome”) was a Synagogue of tiny Jewish community living in Karachi during 20th century, located on survey No. RC-3, measuring 1,190 square yards at Lawrence Road (Today it is called Nishtar Road) in the Ranchore Line Quarters area of Karachi . It was demolished by a mob on July 17, 1988, precisely a month ago before a C-130 plane carrying top military brass of Pakistan, including General Muhammad Zia Ul Haq. It is commonly described as built by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon in 1893. The synagogue was extended in 1912 by Umerdekar’s son, Gershon Solomon Umerdekar and a community hall named “Shegulbai Hall” was built by Abraham Reuben Kamerlekar in memory of Shegulabai Solomon Umerdekar. During 1916-18 the Karachi Jewish community opened a Hebrew school on the synagogue premises and in 1918 constructed the Nathan Abraham Hall.
AFTER READING YOUR ARTICLE ,I WAS SO SURPRISED TO SEE
THE KARACHI SYNAGOGUE MAGEN SHALOM WHICH WAS BUILT BY
MY GREAT GRAND FATHER DAVID SOLOMON UMADAKER AND MY
GRAND FATHER GERSHONE UMADAKER .I EVEN SAW THE PHOTO
OF MY ELDER BROTHER GERSON GERSHONE BAR MITZVA IN KARACHI
THANK YOU FOR ALL WHAT YOU HAVE PUT IN..
REUBEN GERSHONE UMADAKER
A few years ago, my visit to Bene Israel Graveyard, located in Mewa Shah Graveyard, revealed when I read the gravestone of Solomon David that reads, “Very well-known and highly regarded Solomon David always wanted a liberal Jewish community, through his own expense built a fine synagogue, Magen Shalome (In Herew הרווחה ידוע ומוערך מאוד שלמה דוד, ביקש תמיד של הקהילה היהודית דרך ליברליות שלו נבנה על חשבונו בית כנסת נאה, מגן שלום).”
In Karachi, Jews lived mainly in the Ranchor Line and Ramswami areas in Karachi and there were around 2500 Jews at the time of the partition of subcontinent. They were part of the larger Ben-e- Israel group of the British India. The synagoue was built to cater to this small but active community. Some accounts suggest that it was bulit by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon while others suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipality towards the end of 18th century.
It is evident that the community despite the small number was vibrant and formed number of associations to oversee welfare and social activities of the group. The Young Man’s Jewish Association, Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund and Karachi Jewish syndicate were few such associations but they disappeared one by one as the exodus continued due to several factors most importantly ‘in 1970, Jews were offered and arranged by Global Jewish forums to USA’. The synagogue was the last active forum which was demolished to pave way for a commercial plaza (Khurram Shopping Mall) in late 80′s. A Jewish graveyard in Mewashah is the last surviving edifice.Ironically, a pseudo “The Bene Israel Trust” has recently claimed the Land of demolished “Magen Shalom”, a very precious piece of real estate, but no body ever took any interest for the only remaining Jewish Presence Memory, The Jewish Cemetery in Mewashah Graveyard in Karachi.
Jews in Karachi
Jewish community has long historic roots in Subcontinent. In areas, comprising today’s Pakistan had about 153 Jews, mostly living in Karachi by 1818, the number increased to 650 in 1919. At the time of emergence of Pakistan, there were approximately 2500 Jews living in Karachi only with one Synagogue named Magen Shalom. Another account describes the number of 400 Jewish people living in Karachi in 1959. A member of Jewish Family, Mr. Emanuel Matat told me, “When my father got married in 1957 in Karachi, there were 600 Jewish families living in Karachi. There were 10 – 13 families left by 1972. Actually in 1970 the Jews of Pakistan were offered to leave to America and that’s the main reason that time many of the community left”. The total population of Jewish community in subcontinent was about thirty thousand by that time. Also, two other Jewish cemeteries are reported to me during my quest about the Jewish presence in Karachi. Another account, details the activities of Jews in Karachi by Jonathan Marder.
“My family has a strong connection with Karachi, and probably accounted for most of the very small community of European Jews there. My great-grandfather, Simon Wyse, ran the Great Western Hotel, and my grandparents ran the Killarney Hotel there. The Killarney was first housed in a building that later served as the Russian Consulate which, I believe, has been restored as part of the Bay View School.
In the early 1930’s the hotel moved to a ‘palace’ built by a Parsi entrepreneur and was renamed the ‘Killarney Hotel, Marder’s Palace’. The building was, unfortunately, demolished in the 1970s. In its place stands the modern Sheraton Hotel.
My father grew up in Karachi before going to school in England, and went back in 1939 to serve in the Indian Army during the War. He now lives in the UK. One of his aunts married Moses Somake, an Iraqi Jew who, I have learnt, was one of Karachi’s leading architects. One of his buildings is the Flagstaff House that later became the home of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”
Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit Karachi, but have heard many of my father’s and grandparents’ stories. I am in touch with many of our relatives, including Somake’s descendents.
The fall of Magen Shalom
The wave of hatred towards the Jews was inducted into the society in Pakistan by the state under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after he turned towards the Arab leaders for a new Islamic bloc and adopted “Islamic Socialism”, the terms coined by early People’s Party of Pakistan to introduce a new system of plunder and corruption in Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto joined the Arab leaders including King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Mummer Qaddafi of Libya, and Yasir Arafat of Palestine in Pakistan and initiated the era of extremism in Pakistan, based on the hatred towards the Zionists. All the ideology is imported from Arabian Peninsula, which was defeated by the Israelis in several wars and were humiliated. Arab leaders accumulated fame among Arabs by opposing Israel since the phenomenon was indoctrinated by staunch pan-Arab nationalist Egyptian leader Jamal (Gamal) Abdel Nasser. His rise to the popularity was based on his enmity with Israel and Zionists.
It must be noted that not all the Jews are Zionists but all the Zionists are Jews, hence it was easy to manipulate the fact for the public, propagating the Zionists, the Jews. Jamal Abdul Nasir (Gamal Abdel Nasser) and his rivalry to Saudi Arabian royalty is an open secret and after the fall of Jamal (Gamal) Abdel Nasser in 1970, and later an Oil Embargo during ‘Yom Kippur War”, the oil prices has risen, bringing massive riches to Arabs. Saudi Arabia and Libya emerged very rich and, Saudi Arabia, after Egypt lead the movement of war against Israel. Muslic countries around the world, joined Saudi bloc, under the umbrella of Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the state of Pakistan had initiated the process of Islamization in Pakistan, under Saudi Arabian ideological influence. Islamic Summit Conference (22-24 Feb 1974) was the birth of what we know today as Radical Islamic-Extremism, Jihadism or to western world, modern terrorism (although I strongly oppose these terms) in Pakistan. Under the new ideological campaign, Pakistan not only initiated the radicalization of it’s own population, but also it’s spread it’s area of operation to Afghanistan and Kashmir politically. Militarily, Pakistan has started the Nuclear program to build an “Islamic Bomb”.