Cultural Diversity really is a good thing.

I recommended this to a dear friend who is a professor of Political Science at a leading American University.  I liked it so much that I thought I would share it with anyone who reads this blog.


The Jews built Karachi, but we built shopping plazas on their synagogue

By Mahim Maher / Photo: Ayesha Mir

Published: November 3, 2013













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In ever loving memory of our beloved son ENOCH who passed away on 11 December 1933, born 18 December 1910. “God takes our loved ones from our homes, but never from our hearts.” PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS


Not many people know that a number of Karachi’s landmark buildings were designed by a Jewish architect Moses Somake (1875-1947). While he was born in Lahore, he lived most of his life in Karachi before migrating to England a few months before the Partition of India.

Reading a paper at Karachi conference here on Saturday, Gul Hasan Kalmatti, traced the history of Karachi’s Jewish community and recalled their contribution in making Karachi a vibrant metropolis.

“It’s funny how [the other speakers] have mentioned Kalhoros and Jatois,” said Kalmatti, referring to tribes who still exist today. “But today I am speaking of the Yahudis [Jews]. The Kalmattis are still here but the Jews are not.”


He revealed that historic buildings like Mules Mansion in Keamari, BVS Parsi High School and the Karachi Goan Association Hall in Saddar, Khaliqdina Hall on Bunder Road, Jaffer Faddoo Dispensary in Kharadar, Edward House on Victoria road and the famous Flagstaff House were all designed by Moses Somake. “They were our stones, our buildings,” he said. They are no longer there. The design and architecture of some famous hotels of yore – North-Western Hotel, Bristol Hotel and Carlton Hotel – was also conceived by this architect of Iraqi origin.

Tracing the history of Karachi’s lost Jewish community, Kalmatti said they belonged to the Bene Israel diaspora who had settled in the early 19th century coastal towns of India, including Karachi. Most of these people had settled in quarters along Lawrence Road, Ramswami Quarters and Ranchore Lane.

You will still  find nine streets from Jubilee market with the names from our Hindu, Jewish and Muslim heritage: Solomon David street, Seth Harchand street after the mayor of 18 years, one named after Yousaf Ali Alibhai who organised cricket.


Kalmatti regretted that the synagogue known as the Magen Shalom Synagogue was razed to the ground in July 1988, paving the way for a shopping plaza – Madiha Square. The synagogue was built by Solomon David Omerdekar in 1893. In 1895, a community hall was added to this synagogue in memory of Solomon’s wife, Shegulbai. His sons established a Hebrew school in the synagogue’s premises in 1918 and constructed a Nathan Abraham Hall. Solomon, who was the chief of the city’s Jewish community and a surveyor of the Karachi Municipality, lies buried along with his wife in Karachi.

According to Kalmatti, a leading member of city’s Jewish community, Abraham Reuben, was elected to the Karachi Municipal Corporation thrice – in 1919, 1936 and 1939. He established a school in 1927 that still exists in Liaquatabad’s Haji Mureed Goth and is named after him.

Giving the estimates about the growth of Jewish population in Karachi, Kalmatti said that according to the 1881 census, there were only 153 Jews in Karachi and the number at the time of Partition of India stood at 2,500. But most of them migrated to Israel after it came into being in 1948. However, by 1968 there were only 250 Jews living in Karachi. After their synagogue was destroyed, the remaining few Jews, fearing for their lives, started identifying themselves as Parsis and Christians.

At the end of his presentation Kalmatti sounded quiet poignant, recalling that Karachi was a tolerant, peaceful city when inhabited by people from diverse religious backgrounds. “We are 99% Muslims now but we’re cutting each other’s throats,” he said. Today when there are no Jews, fewer Hindus and only a few Goans and Parsis and the overwhelming majority subscribe to the same religion, they are after each other’s blood.


and the last paragraph really caught my attention.  I thought, what better place to discuss ethnic diversity which contributes positively to a more peaceful political environment?  A great subject for a class discussion, which easily could be expanded into an entire course.  It would probably be better in a class of Anthropology, but the subject is adaptable to many venues, in my opinion.  One venue is this blog where I can preach and report and discuss in a lovely one-sided manner whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.  

I have long believed that America is great because of its ethnic diversity.  Our many cultures sometimes clash, but more often they create a richer environment and despite my hypocritical opinion of intermarriage (I’m against it), I see households where both peoples can contribute to the whole.  I think that economic and educational equality is more important to a successful marriage than ethnicity.  Religion does not have to be divisive if both respect the other’s beliefs.  Cultures may clash (Kim Lien and I often find ourselves believing totally opposite things because we were raised to believe x or y) but communication and finally acceptance without agreement almost always solves the stickiest situations.  I’m happy that the Jews, Africans, Italians, Irish and other ethnicities brought their foods and their music with them when they came to America.  Imagine how boring it would be without Jazz, or without Gershwin, or without a great tarantella to swing around the floor to!  Could we be happy without tortellini or Ciabata, or kreplach or Chale, or great barbecue and corn bread?  Soda bread, well, I wouldn’t cry if that didn’t make it to our shores, but I sure would miss lamb stew.

Surprisingly, the place we fight about most is the kitchen.  She believes in some things I absolutely refuse to believe because culturally we each were taught from birth to believe what we do.  That said, she has adopted many of my beliefs regarding sanitation and I have come to ignore and accept many of her’s about refrigeration.  I believe that the only reason more Vietnamese don’t die of food poisoning is that the food is so fresh.  When you buy a fish that is swimming until you choose it and the vendor takes it out of the water and kills it, there is no time for pathogens to grow.  So bringing it home, cooking it and leaving it out until later when you eat it is relatively safe.  Fish you buy in the USA is either frozen, thawed, or kept on ice for ??? days until it is wrapped for you to take home and put in your probably too warm refrigerator (temp should be 33ºF  to 39ºF)where you may use it that night, or the next night, or even the third night, for dinner.  That would make the fish anywhere from 3 days to 7 days old—IF the boat that caught that fish iced it properly and got it to market in a day or two.  Probably the fishing boat was at sea for a week or more, which would make your fish two to ??? weeks old.  No wonder the shrimp here, which are swimming until my wife brings them home and tears off their heads, taste so amazingly better.  Vegetables usually get to our table on the same day they were picked, or at least by the second day.  Local fruit is the same, just picked that day or yesterday.  We get oranges and apples from Australia or the USA or sometimes Japan.  People try to avoid anything from China, and indeed the Chinese are importing more from Vietnam lately.  Chinese have started to label their food “Made/Grown in Vietnam” and at times that works, but people here mostly know the differences between things grown in Vietnam as opposed to things grown in China, regardless of the labels.

One really bad thing is that both countries seem to let chickens and ducks that had H5N1 come to market.  A few people have died and many have become ill, but bribery takes precedent over food safety.  China recently bought one of America’s biggest pork processors, Smithfield Foods.  Smithfield was producing pork treated with chemicals that are banned in the USA, so the Chinese just ship them to Vietnam with the true marking, “Made in USA”.  If there are problems importing these meats, well, customs officials are quite underpaid.

Therein lies a major problem.  Graft and bribery abound seemingly unchecked. It would be easy to stop many of these problems, but an attitude of “can’t stop it” pervades the society.  If HCM City wanted to stop the cheating by airport taxi drivers, it would be simple to set up a kiosk at the airport for taxi passengers to go to, tell their destination, buy a chit for the taxi, and avoid being cheated by dishonest drivers.  If VN wanted to clean up the traffic police graft, they could make it mandatory that when a motorbike or car or truck is stopped, the driver’s keys are seized, a ticket is issued, and the driver must go to a local convenient store to pay the fine, get a receipt, and exchange that receipt for his keys.  Likewise, smoking, prohibited in restaurants, could be stopped by having roving bands of police who can be called by a restaurant patron to report the illegal smoking.  A fine could be issued to both the restaurant and the patron, and the reporter could be given a reward from this fine and the balance could go to pay salaries of the smoking police.  These are small, easy things to correct, but nobody seems willing to correct them.  It is very disturbing.

I have strayed far from my original subject, but it is MY blog, so that’s the way it is, the 12th of March, 2014.  Amazing how much easier life is if I finish my taxes early.


But I digress.  KL & I usually resolve our culinary differences by tolerance or refusal to eat the other’s food.  I will not eat an egg with an unborn duck fetus, complete with pin feathers, bill, and tiny webbed feet, and she won’t eat any dish with cheese or butter or milk.  She won’t eat cold soup like Gaspacho, I won’t eat re-formed crab soup.  I can’t get past the smell, she can’t get past the idea of soup that is not at least lukewarm.  Things could be worse, but we generally talk thru the issues or grab a knife and try to murder the other (just kidding).  We have deeply intense conversations about the differences in our cultures, and we generally ignore the food stuff and each eats whatever he or she likes.  Both of us have changed our diets, me much more than her.  She respects my religion and I respect that she doesn’t have any.  Waving 3 incense sticks at a home shrine isn’t my thing, and isn’t hers either.  She does it outside our home, but we don’t have a shrine at home and she she didn’t want one when I offered to put one in.  



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