Baghdadi Jews of India–Yvonne

Baghdadi Jews, also called Jehudi, are Jews from Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. They migrated to India due to economic reasons and mostly importantly, persecution by Muslims in the Arab world. They moved to India during the British Imperial era (18th century).

Most of them were merchants and instinctively settled in commercial cities like Surratt, Bombay, Calcutta and Rangoon.  In the 1940s there were about 7000 Baghdadi Jews living in India. Their trade flourished under the British rule and their trade expanded to Japan, China, the Middle East and Europe.

Their dark hair and tanned complexion gave them some resemblance to Indians but majority of them did not assimilate completely to Indian culture and they kept their Arabic language. Most of them preserved the Judaism and identity. However, they slowly started adopting English as their first language and the rich ones moved to England where they became citizens.

Baghdadi Jews played important roles as merchants in Surratt; a port city in India where they first settled. The wealthy amongst them built synagogues, schools, cemeteries and departments in hospitals where Baghdadi Jews were treated special.

Baghdadi Jews' Family Portrait

Baghdadi Jews’ Family Portrait

One of the prominent families was the Sassoons. David Sassoon moved to Bombay in the early 19th Century. He had thirteen children; eight sons and five daughters. He served as a middleman or distributor between the merchants of the Indian gulf and the British. Also, he exported opium and textiles to China and bought other goods there that he traded back to the British. He later went into the oil business and had close to 300000 workers in his 17 mills.

He built prominent synagogues in India: the Magen David synagogue, Ohel David Synagogue of Pune. His son also built schools, a dock and a library.

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Ohel David

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