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Thursday, 24 November 2016



In 1837, the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote his “Kejserens nye Klæder” (‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’). Two tailors weave some new clothes for the Emperor. No one can see them because they were invisible, they had no substance at all, they did not exist.

London’s Design Museum has just (November 2016) moved into what used to be the Commonwealth Institute (‘CI’) in Holland Park. Its construction was completed in 1962. I remember visiting the CI in the early 1960s, when its gloomy interior housed exhibits from various parts of the Commonwealth. I was more impressed by the building’s then original and fantastic architecture than by its contents.

The CI building remained closed and disused from long before the beginning of this century until this year when it re-opened as the Design Museum. The building’s exterior has been well-restored, but is somewhat hidden from the road by two ugly ‘rectanguloid’ (or box-like) low-rise tower blocks, which are an affront to both good design and good town-planning. I imagine that letting or selling space in these two buildings helped pay for the restoration of the former CI building.

The interior of the old CI building has been scooped out and replaced by a wonderful new interior, an exciting space worthy of a museum that is dedicated to design.

Sadly, the exhibition fails miserably. Leaving the splendid atrium, the visitor enters a series of ‘galleries’ crammed with ‘icons’ of (mostly) 20th century design. The cluttered exhibition spaces reminded me of charity shops or jumble sales. The only difference between the museum and the latter is that the objects on display are in better condition than those in jumble sales or charity shops.

The newly located Design Museum made me think of Hans Christian Andersen. The building is splendid, both outside and inside, but the exhibition does not deserve such a fine building. The clothing is great, but the Emperor is missing.



Tuesday, 15 November 2016


About ten years ago, an American Jewish acquaintance, who had just completed a tour of southern India, complained that he had seen no end of Hindu temples and Christian churches, but only one synagogue. Well, I was not surprised. Once in Venice (Italy), a religious Jew on learning that I am Jewish asked whether my wife (a gentile), an Indian, is Jewish. That got me thinking. I calculated that randomly meeting a Jew born in India was extremely improbable – it is less than 0.0005%.  So, to write about the Jews of India is to describe a minute proportion of the country’s vast population. And as I write, that proportion is only likely to diminish.

While idly flicking through the Eicher street atlas for Bangalore, I noticed, quite by chance, that the city has a “Jewish Grave Yard”. I have visited this cemetery several times. It contains less than sixty graves, but together they open a window that provides a good overview of the Jewish people who have lived in India. The story of India’s Jewry has been described in detail elsewhere (for example: “India’s Jewish Heritage” edited by Shalva Weil and “Shalom India” by Monique Zetlaoui). I will present their tales as viewed through a south Indian lens.

Jews have lived in what is now Kerala since time immemorial. They lived on the Malabar Coast in, for example, Kranganore and Cochin. It is said that St Thomas came to India to convert them into Christians. He failed miserably, converting, instead, the other people who he found living there.  A grave in the cemetery commemorates Elias Isaac, who came from Cochin to Bangalore to act as the schochet (ritual slaughterer) to the Moses family.  Today, there are one or two elderly Jews still living in Kerala.

The oldest graves in the cemetery mark the resting places of Subedar Samuel Nagavkar (1816-1904) and Benjamin Nagavkar (1877-1910). Samuel might have served the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who donated the land for the cemetery in 1904. The Nagavkars were members of the Beni Israel community, whose origins are obscure. According to the historian HS Kehimkar, they claimed to have come from “the North” to India in about 175 BC (BCE). Many of their community still live in and around Maharastra State.

There are several other graves bearing names of Beni Israel Jews. Tor example: the horse trainer Sion E Nissim (1900-58), one of whose horses, Commoner, won the Indian Derby; Mrs Abigail Jhirad, daughter of the Subedar; and Joshua Moses Benjamin  Bhonkar (1920-2005). The latter (aka ‘Joshua Benjamin’) was both a writer (“The Mystery of Israel's Ten Lost Tribes and the Legend of Jesus in India”) and a Chief Minister in the Government of India.

Whereas the origins of the Malabar and Beni Israel Jews are obscure, this is not the case with the Iraqi Jews, who came to India from the Middle East beginning in the 18th century. Many of them settled in Bombay and Calcutta. The most famous of them being the Sassoon family.

The Bangalore cemetery contains graves for the following families from Calcutta: Ezra, Elias, Earl, and Moses. Edward Earl (1910-1953) was the proprietor of the once well-known Earl’s Pickles company.  Calcutta used to have a large Jewish community, including the Moses family, who are buried in Bangalore and originated in Iraq.

Ruben Moses (1871-1936) left Iraq to join the California gold rush. He left California for India in 1906, following the disastrous San Francisco earthquake. He headed for the Kolar gold fields, but ended up in Bangalore, where he founded a shoe store in the city’s Commercial Street. The store, which is now occupied by Woody’s veg fast-food outlet, was once the largest shoe retailer in southern Asia. His home, now long since demolished, contained a prayer hall where the city’s few local Jews and Jewish visitors from all over the world came to wordship along with the Moses family.

What did the Jews do in Bangalore apart from what I have mentioned above? Poor Moses Ashkenazy(1957-1982) was a student, who died of an overdose of drugs.  Sassoon Saul Moses (d. 1975) was a ‘hawker’, as were many of my Lithuanian Jewish ancestors who arrived in South Africa in the 1890s. The widow Rebecca Elias (1927-1992) lost her husband early, and then worked in a needle factory in Bangalore. GE Moses and Isaac Cohen, neither of whom are buried in the cemetery, were, respectively, a clothes retailer and an auctioneer. The grave of RE Reuben (1877-1939) records that he was “Malarial Supervisor of the C&M Station Municipality”. I wonder whether he ever met the Nobel laureate Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932), the pioneer of the fight against malaria. Reuben’s place of work is mentioned in Ross’s papers.

Troubles with anti-Semitism in Europe and, later, the outbreak of the Second World War (‘WW2’) led to other Jews entering the Indian Judaic scene – refugees and soldiers. They are well represented in the Bangalore cemetery. But, before describing some of them, let me not forget the Russian-born Saida Abramovka Isako, who died in 1932. She was the wife of FY Isako, who was proprietor of the ‘Russian Circus’. Her coffin was carried on a bier drawn by white circus horses. I imagine that the burials of the German refugees Siegfried Appel (1906-1939) from Bonn, Gunther and his mother Mrs Rahmer from Gleiwitz, and Dr Weinzweig, were less memorable. Carl Weinzweig (1890-1966) was a dentist (his surgery was in MG Road), as was Gunther Rahmer.

Amongst the military personnel that passed through Bangalore during WW2, was the future President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was stationed at an RAF base in the city. His name appears in the Moses family guestbook. Sadly, the cemetery records the casualties of war, who died in the city. These include Yusuf Guetta (1921-1943), who was evacuated from Ben-Ghazi in Libya by the British in 1941, and Private Morris Minster (1918-1942). Minster served in the South Wales Borderers Regiment and was initially buried in the grave yard. His stone remains, but he has been moved to a large Commonwealth war cemetery in Madras.

The “Jewish Grave Yard” in Bangalore encapsulates the story of the larger of the Jewish ‘groupings’ that have lived in India. The cemetery is so unknown that even a few of the Jews who have lived in the city have been unaware of it. I have met the heirs of the Jewish refugee from Germany, Mr Jacoby, who introduced popcorn and machines for making it to India and settled in Bangalore. Their nearest and dearest are resting in peace in Christian cemeteries, of which there is no shortage in Bangalore.

At the beginning, I mentioned that India’s Jewish population is diminishing. Over the years many Jews left India. My wife, who went to school in Calcutta, remembers that the city had many thriving synagogues and that there were several Jewish girls in her class. When we visited Calcutta four or five years ago, we saw three synagogues. Two of them were well-maintained, by Moslem caretakers, as is Bangalore’s Jewish cemetery. The third that we saw appeared to be about to crumble.

India can be proud to remember that, unlike so many other countries, it was not anti-Semitism that caused Jews to migrate. Just as so many other Indians have left the country to better their economic prospects, so did the Jews.

An album containing annotated photographs of all of the graves in Bangalore's 'Jewish Grave Yard' may be purchased as an e-book (or a paperback) by clicking HERE

Tuesday, 8 November 2016



A new book about Albania by Adam Yamey

Albanian people live all over the Balkans and in the Middle East, not to mention those who have migrated to Western Europe and the USA in the last two centuries. Subjects to a series of foreign rulers over the millennia, some of them now live in independent countries, which are governed by Albanians: the recently formed Republic of Kosova (‘established’ 2008), and the longer-established Republic of Albania (‘established’ 1912). Adam Yamey’s book, “Rediscovering Albania”, is about the latter, although some references are made to the former.

Adam, who has been interested in the Balkans – especially Albania – for many decades, first visited Albania in 1984, when the country was governed by a repressive regime headed by Joseph Stalin’s fervent admirer, the dictator Enver Hoxha (1908-1985). The country was then ‘hermetically’ sealed off from the rest of the world, even more so than North Korea is today. The only way for a tourist to visit Albania in 1984 was on a closely supervised guided tour during which the Albanian authorities did their best to ensure that the visitor only saw what they wanted. Their aim was to send tourists home with the impression that Albania was a ‘paradise’, which other countries ought to envy and emulate. In order to create that impression, the foreign visitor was not allowed to talk to, or otherwise communicate with, Albanian citizens; not allowed to stray from the tour group; not permitted to eat in the presence of Albanians; not allowed to take photographs of whatever interested him or her; not permitted to carry certain reading matter including religious works; and so on. Despite these restrictions, Adam came away having had an interesting view of the most beautiful country in the Balkans.

Enver Hoxha died in 1985, and was replaced by Ramiz Alia. Five years later, two years after the Berlin Wall was officially breached, Albania’s Stalinist dictatorship ended. For the first time since independence in 1912, Albanians began experiencing the closest they ever had to true democracy. In the beginning, it was not easy. During the early years of Albania’s post-Communist existence, there were many problems to be faced. For example: complex internal politics; the break-up of its neighbour, the former Yugoslavia; a civil war in 1997; Kosova’s struggle for independence.

In May 2016, Adam paid another visit to Albania. He and his wife hired a car and toured the country extensively – from the high mountains in the north to the Greek border in the south and the Macedonian border in the south-east.  On this trip, Adam and his wife could: talk with any Albanian whom they met; travel wherever they wished; eat and drink with Albanians; take photographs without restrictions; carry whatever reading material they wished; and so on. They came away from the country with favourable impressions and happy memories.

During his latest trip, Adam kept a detailed travel journal. This formed the basis for writing “Rediscovering Albania”. The book charts Adam’s trip through Albania, providing personal anecdotes and observations that give the reader an idea of what to expect when visiting the country. But, there is much more.  Wherever Adam went, he heard things from people, and saw sights that aroused his curiosity. On his return to London, he investigated what he experienced in detail. “Rediscovering Albania” describes Adam’s trip in the context of: Albania’s troubled history and vibrant present; the reports of earlier travellers (Francois Pouqueville, Lord Byron, Edward Lear, Edith Durham, and many others); and the opinions of Albanians, whom the author met during his journey. Also, the book includes comparisons of how the author found Albania in 1984 with what it is like today in 2016. The resulting text is an informative and entertaining introduction to one of Europe’s most fascinating, but undeservedly lesser-known, countries.

The book, which is available as a paperback and an e-book (Kindle format), contains two maps and many photographs.

As Adam took far too many pictures to be included in one book, he is posting them gradually on a Facebook page (which can be accessed and viewed by those who have no Facebook account). Visit:

To buy a copy of the paperback: click HERE

To buy the Kindle: click  HERE