Pakistan's Beni Israelites
The 10 Jewish families in Karachi share a small world in themselves.
‘My name is Ishaq Moosa Akheer. I am a Yahudi (Jew) and working as a doctor in a Karachi hospital’.
This introduction would have sent umpteen eyebrows up, had it been sounded in the precise words only till last month. Ishaq is a member of the remaining 10 Jewish families in Karachi who are living in this Port City of Pakistan for the last two centuries. Dr. Ishaq and other members of the Jewish families had been living in Karachi while keeping their religious identity under wraps. They mostly pose as Parsis in public. But the meeting of the Pak foreign minister and Israeli foreign minister in Istanbul last month and President Pervez Musharraf’s address at the American Jewish Congress in Washington D.C. last month has paved way for these last of the Pakistani Beni Israelites to carry their identity in public.
Dr. Ishaq says the 10 Jewish families in Karachi share a small world in themselves. They carry out their rituals at home. Recently Ishaq performed his son’s Yar Mitzwa, the Jewish ritual that heralds the adulthood of sons on attaining 13 years of age, at home and invited other Jews for the ceremony. He said the Karachi Jews arrange congregations privately at their home. “We feel a kind of protection in keeping our rituals private. We do not want to be exploited politically”, Ishaq informed BBC in a recent interview. He said, ‘I do not want to leave Pakistan even though I harbour a profound desire to visit the Jewish homeland of Israel. It is not possible till Pakistan recognises Israel and the two nations establish diplomatic relationship.’
In a recent e-mailed letter to Jerusalem Post, Dr. Ishaq Moosa Akheer said around 1900, Karachi had about 2500 Jews who were engaged in various professions and trade. They were speaking Mirachi language which is a solid proof of their being Beni Israelites. In 1893, they built their first synagogue in Karachi. It was christened as Megan Shalom Synagogue. In 1903, they formed the first voluntary organisation, Young Men Jewish Association which used to undertake welfare work for the Jewish community in Pakistan.