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Bangladeshi Jewish Mordechai living in Kolkata


Hasan Shantonu, Click Ittefaq, September 21, 2015
It has been said that Mordechai Cohen is the last representative of the Jewish community in Bangladesh. He was born in 1944 on 30 June at Rajshahi, a district and division of Bangladesh. He left this country with all of his family members in 1964 and emigrated in 1968 to Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Mordechai grew up in Bangladesh. He was a prominent TV program announcer and news reader or presenter in English and Bengali languages at Government-owned Bangladesh Television (BTV). He was also an actor and acted in around seven Bengali films. He left this country at the age of only 20. But his beautiful appearance, humane behavior towards all sincerely and acting talent turned him an exemplary character or personality to the youth of that times.

According to many sources, obviously we are not well informed that there are how many Jews in Bangladesh now. There were many Jewish families living in Bangladesh but almost all of them left. Some families have not left Bangladesh. However, they are not eager to reveal their religious identity.

Mordechai is well and happily living at Kolkata, informed me recently that eminent Indian poet Joy Goswami who had come to Bangladesh with his two days visit last week. Joy said to me that he had met Mordechai Cohen's family and others Jews of Kolkata 9 months ago. Joy has also shared his poetic and personal experiences with me. He is one of the most influential modern poets of Bengali literature was born on November 10, 1954 in Kolkata.

The Daily Prothom Alo, published an article on 3 June, 2011, titlled Bangladesher shesh ihodi poribar (The last Jews family in Bangladesh). Author Mohammed Lutful Haque described that 'Mordechai Cohen and his wife are now retired, living in Kolkata 30 Park Lane. I met with Mordechai Kolkata. He is almost 70 years old now, but in the termites body structure is covered by a cane to walk. The childhood, adolescence and young ages he spent at Rajshahi, his memory is still fresh.'

Dr. Shalva Weil, a specialist on India's Jews, is a Senior Researcher at the Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He wrote in a post about Mordechai Cohen's,

"Another family who lived in Bangladesh were the Cohen brothers, whose ancestors came from Iran and Iraq and settled in Bangladesh. Mordechai went to school in Rajshahi, where his father ran a general store that sold liquor. Mordechai was one of the pioneers of Bangladeshi television, but he was forced out of Bangladesh after the Six Day War, and moved to Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1968, where he is one of the remaining Jews there. Mordechai Cohen and his wife, Aline, returned to Dhaka in December 2014, as guests of the state-run Dhaka Television, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee.' Here it's mentionable that BTV, a state-owned national TV station began its operations in 1964."

Bangladeshi writer Major General (Rtd) Jamil D Ahsan wrote about Mordechai Cohen's Rajshahi's school life that 'the annual sports competition I enjoyed the most interesting and exciting cycling. Tall and handsome Mordechai was ranked first in the competition who was only Jewish student' (Source- The Daily Prothom Alo, 03.06.2011).

Daniel Pipes wrote in a blog post that 'Mordechai Cohen is a Sephardic Jew, who was born in Bangladesh. Mordechai and Jo Cohen now live in Kolkata. Mordechais great-grandparents, Jews from Iran and Iraq, settled in East Bengal in the 1800s in what was then India. Very few Jews settled in East Bengal, as opposed to West Bengal, which had a thriving Jewish community of more than 5,000 at its peak in and around Kolkata (then Calcutta). When the Indian subcontinent became independent from Britain in 1947, it was partitioned between India and the divided country of East and West Pakistan.'

Jacob Farj Rafael (JFR) Jacob (1923-) is Mordechai Cohen's uncle who is considered a hero by the millions of Bangladeshis old enough to remember him. He is a retired Indian Army Lieutenant General. He is best known for the role he played in Liberation war of Bangladesh, in 1971. Jacob, then a Major General, served as the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army's Eastern Command during the war. Among the foreign friends whom Bangladesh awarded in 2012 on the occasion of the 41 anniversary of its independence, for their leading role in liberating it in 1971, an Indian top ranking military official Jacob, whom Bangladesh considers one of the most important friends of the nation. All Bangalis are respect him as our war hero, we never consider and judge his religious identity.

Why Mordechai Cohen has left Dhaka? I asked it a professor of Dhaka University. He answered that 'the Arabs loss to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War inflamed anti-Israel sentiment across the Muslim world, forcing the Cohen family to flee for India the following year. After the Six Day War in 1967, questions were raised about the Jew presenting the news. His parents, who were still living in Rajshahi, were threatened and were given police protection. He and his parents left for Kolkata in 1968.

(Times of Israel)

Keywords: Global Jews, Global Judaism, Sephardi, Diversity, Bangladesh