Muslims have been taking care of Kolkata’s historic Beth El Synagogue for much of its 161 years. It’s a story of co-existence and co-operation that locals say captures India’s spirit, especially at a time when religious tensions grip many parts of the globe.
The current caretaker, a Muslim man named Gurfan, inherited the role from his father, who tended to the house of worship for more than four decades. During that time, he watched the Jewish population in the city dwindle from a high of several thousand strong to just a few dozen. Yet the caretakers remained dedicated to the sacred site.
The synagogue was recently refurbished and celebrated as part of an event attended by the handful of Jews there, as well as many non-Jewish well-wishers, including mostly Muslim students from the Jewish Girls School Kolkata, founded in 1881. Since the 1960s, however, it has been been catering to a mostly non-Jewish student body.
The rabbi of the synagogue, Rabbi Tzvi Rivkin, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Bangalore some 1,200 miles away, told Chabad.org: “It is fitting that the children of Abraham—Jews and Muslims—have found common ground in a holy religious place.”