The Century old synagogue of Rasta Peth.
Jews have been part of Pune culture since mid 1800s ( or even before). Baghdadi Jews, Bene Israeli Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews are Various subtypes of Jews community . But Jews of Maharashtra had early settlements in Raigad district.
That’s why their names are Divekar’s, Penkars, Cheulkars, Borgawkars etc.
All of us know David Sassoon's synagogue ( Lal Deval) which is a iconic land mark of Ambedkar Road ( earlier Moledina Road ).
He was from an aristocratic Baghdadi Jew community with a formidable business empire.
But Bene Israeli Jews come from more modest working class and small business community. Once upon a time they were called ' Shaniwar Teli 'because of their oil pressing business and didn't work on Saturdays.
Tucked inside Rasta Peth area which was predominantly their habitat is a century old Synagogue called “Succath Shelomo Synagogue”. It is facing at an angle to “Lakerya Maruti”main road .
This Oblique orientation is to make it face towards their holy city of Jerusalem.
The structure is adorned with a red brick porch. Inside is a sizable hall for their sabbath and other congregations. The land on which this synagogue stands, was given by Subhedar Major Soloman Babaji Jhiradkar ( Another Bene Israeli Jew ).
Before the construction of this synagogue the Bene Israeli community would use a nearby rented place in the neighbourhood . They also went to David Ohel synagogue which was built about 60 years before Sukath Shelomo Synagogue.
After getting the land the construction started in December 1919 and was completed and dedicated on 21 st May 1921.
Thus on 21 st May of this year it has completed 100 years, a landmark occasion in it’s history.
In 1924 some more part was added for creating more space by donations of Mr.E.Joseph in memory of his parents John David and Dinabai Borgawker. The main entrance known as “Port Cochere” is built in bricks and stone arch. It leads to main congregation double height hall with side isles ( for women ). The pulpit like structure called “Tebah” stands in the centre for reading Torah scrolls and preaching. The Torah scrolls are kept in special enclosure called “Heckal”. Ancillary spaces including care taker's accommodation and bigger space at the rear side for bigger congregation, assemblies etc. are also provided.
Two velvet covered chairs are kept in the prayer are; One is the name of prophet Elizah and other for Jewish rituals.
This synagogue is smaller than David Ohel synagogue( Lal Deval ) which is Asia's largest synagogue outside Israel. David Ohel synagogue was built in 1864, and also provided prayer facilities for all the Jews in that area. Rasta Peth had a “ Israel Ali” and “Jew Lane”, so much was concentration of Jews in that area.
This was mainly because of diverse diaspora like Parsees , Christians, Telugu,and Maharashtrians in that area. Very few Puneites would know about this place, including me till I had a glimpse of it long time back.
Of course Pune's Jewish population has reduced to few hundreds after people moved to Israel after 1950 ( Israel's independence )
We Congratulate the Synagogue on the landmark centenary occasion !!!
This Article is based on Facebook, Internet, Indian Jew Heritage Culture Centre's site, and some cross references from different reading material for its information and photographs in open domain.