The Magain Shalome synagogue in Karachi was demolished in 1988.
A campaign to persuade Pakistani authorities to permit the
re-establishment of a synagogue and the refurbishment of a derelict Jewish cemetery in Karachi has been launched by a young member of the
country’s dwindling and beleaguered Jewish community, Bernard Josephs reports in the Jewish Chronicle. But Pakistani's handful of Jews are all elderly or masquerading as Muslims or Parsees. The question is - who would use the synagogue?
Virulent antisemitism fuelled by widespread hostility towards Israel
and Islamic fundamentalism has seen an exodus of nearly all Jews from
the country, most of them seeking refuge in Israel, India and the West.
However, Fishel Bhenkhald’s Jewish maternal grandparents, who
immigrated from Iran during the British Raj, decided to remain. Fearing
for the safety of their child (Mr Bhenkhald’s mother), they registered
her as a Muslim.
Now 27, Mr Bhenkhald, whose father was a humanist-minded Muslim, has
rediscovered his Jewish roots and is devoting himself to “claiming
Jewish rights in Pakistan”.
He has petitioned Pakistani courts for legal approval to have a shul
built and is asking for support for his plan to work on the Jewish
cemetery in Karachi.
The city’s former synagogue, Magen Shalom, was demolished in 1988,
during the Islamist dictatorship of Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq. It was replaced
by a shopping and residential plaza.
“Call me a dreamer,” Mr Bhenkhald said, “but if my drive to clean the
Jewish graves goes on as intended it could result in cutting through
the red-tape of city government to get legal permission to build a small
He will clean the graves “first with my own hands, equipped with
nothing but a spade and elbow grease. I am also using Twitter to ask for
volunteers in Pakistan to help me.” Despite hostility in the press and
from the authorities, he continues to publicly advocate a relationship
between Pakistan and Israel.
He also faces problems in changing his status as a Muslim to that of a Jew.
“Pakistani law does not allow its citizens who are registered as
Muslims to change their religious status. To do so is punishable under
Sharia law,” said Mr Bhenkhald.
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