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Old Gathering Place is New Jewish Heritage Project

One of the newest projects for WMF's Jewish Heritage Program is the development of a comprehensive conservation plan, leading to a hands-on restoration, for the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai, India. There are currently around 3,500 Jews in Mumbai and three synagogues in the area. Keneseth Eliyahoo is the second-oldest synagogue of the three, named in honor of Eliyahoo Sassoon, the son of the founder of the Sassoon dynasty in India. (Keneseth means “gathering place.”)

The building represents an interesting mix of eastern and western influences, as the decoration scheme for the synagogue combines regional traditional elements with English colonial features. Built in the Classical Revival style, the building has Minton tile floors imported from Stoke-on-Trent in England as well as Victorian stained glass windows and rich Burmese teak furnishings. It is hard to miss the synagogue in the urban setting of Mumbai–the entire building was treated to a fresh layer of striking sky-blue paint for its 125th anniversary in 2009.

On a recent trip to India to check on WMF sites, I stopped by the synagogue and met the project architect, Abha Narain Lambah, and members of the local community, including Solomon Sopher, the chairman of the Sassoon Trust and the synagogue's hazan, or vocalist who leads the congregation in songful prayer.

Keneseth Eliyahoo is open to the public and holds regular minyan, or prayer services, and kiddush, the Shabbat morning blessing. Its location in the downtown Kola Ghoda district is close to Mumbai's cultural and business hubs, providing easy access to foreign visitors and locals alike.

To best admire this elaborately decorated synagogue, you should visit in the afternoon when the setting sun shines through the beautiful stained glass windows and illuminates the pillars, benches, and galleries in bright reds, greens, oranges, and blues.