KOLKATA: At Jewish Girls’ School on Park Street, around two dozen senior students – some attired in skirts, others in slacks – practice their moves ahead of the annual concert next month. The girls, of whom nine out of 10 are Muslims, dance merrily to the catchy tune of the Jewish folk song ‘Hava Nagila‘.
At another school, Elias Meyer School & Talmud Torah, in Bowbazar, the boys – again, mostly Muslims – look forward to Jewish festivals like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as much as they do Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr. It’s a matter of sadness that Passover is no longer a holiday.
Outside both schools, women in burqas and men in skullcaps wait to collect their wards after school. Yasmeen, who has come to pick up her daughter from the Park Street address, is a former student.
These two schools in the heart of the city are perfect examples where hope and harmony triumphs over hate.
“The idea of Muslim students in a Jewish school is not out of place here, in Kolkata. I was a student at Jewish Girls’ around 25 years ago. Now, my daughter goes to the school. Though I hail from a conservative family, we have never had an issue about going to a school run by Jewish people,” says Nasima, who lives nearby, on Elliot Road.
The doors of the two Jewish schools in Kolkata were opened to other communities around the same time that Israel was formed, seven decades ago. “Since the 1960s, there have been no Jewish students at these schools. Though open to students of all faiths, Muslims make up over 90% of the 1,500 students at Jewish Girls’ and 500-odd at Elias Meyer,” says Brian Auckland, one of the members of the Jewish board that runs the two institutions.
The dwindling Jewish community in Kolkata has less than 20 members now, all of them elderly.
David Askhenazy, another board member, says that while the school still has Jewish traditions, including holiday on the Sabbath, there is no discrimination. “Like everyone, we pray for peace in Israel and Palestine. But we don’t hold prayer meets in schools because we don’t want to burden the students with anything beyond studies,” he says.
Jewish Girls’ School principal Abeda Razeq, who studied here in the 1980s and ’90s and since then a teacher, says the school is a beacon of interfaith cooperation. “We symbolise a harmonious co-existence the world deserves,” she says.

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