The Shaare Rason Synagogue, a landmark and the second oldest Bene Israel synagogue in Mumbai, holds special importance not just for Jews but also to local residents, many of who donated money for its restoration when the shrine was revamped in 2015.
The synagogue, which is surrounded by industrial godowns and scrap sellers near the Masjid railway station, turned 175 this year.
“I took over as the president in 2014. We were able to revamp the synagogue with donations collected from all over the world including those from Muslim tenants residing close to the place of worship. We restored it without any changes, retaining its original form, the way our ancestors had maintained it,” says Judah Samuel, president of the synagogue.
Built in 1843, the synagogue is adjacent to a Jewish colony, which even today is known as ‘Israel mohalla’. It was built after a disagreement between two groups of management at the oldest Bene Israel synagogue, Shaar Harahamim, built in 1976 and situated on Samuel street, Samuel says. There are no restrictions on non-Jews from entering the place of worship, except Saturdays when prayers are conducted. Prior permission from Samuel is, however, required for entry. The structure is guarded by the police 24 hours a day. “We need to be secure about the place and be preapred for everything. We cannot allow a stranger to enter without verifying the cause,” says Samuel.
Shaare Rason, literally meaning ‘Gate of Desires’, once upon a time used to be housefull. However, due to large-scale migration to Israel over the years, it now caters to just 50-60 people during Jewish auspicious days.
“During Saturdays, we have just 15-20 people. The festivities such as the Jewish New Year and others are all held at the synagogue, a place where the community gets to meet,” says Samuel.
The Synagogue celebrated its 175th year on January 13, with a function held at Magen David Synagogue in Byculla. “Because of the congested location of Shaare Rason Synagogue, we could not hold festivites there. A small ceremony was held on December 16 in the synagogue with prayer service, more of a thanksgiving. At a large function at Magen Synagogue, C H Vidyasagar Rao, the governor of Maharashtra, was the chief guest. At least 600 people had assembled, including from Pune as well as Thane via special buses. The event was followed by a community dinner,” says Samuel, who estimates that there are 3,000-3,500 people of Jewish faith in Mumbai and Thane.
For Sinora Kolatkar, the synagogue is a place she has been visiting since childhood. Her husband, Yeheal, looks after the administration of the place, she handles accounts, whereas her children conduct prayers. She says, “Whatever you ask for at the synagogue, you get it.” Speaking of her connection with the synagogue, she says, “My family has a special attachment towards this as my father and forefathers have done a lot for this place. My father-in-law has made the ‘Sefer Torah’ casing in which the scrolls are fitted.”