Bene Israel community to build Jewish museum at Alibaug home built 2 millennia ago

Updated: Feb 02, 2018, 16:59 IST | Gaurav Sarkar and Fiona Fernandez

More than 2,000 years after their ancestors first arrived in Alibaug, the Bene Israel Jewish community will build a heritage museum there

The museum will come up on 10 acres of the 25-acre plot
The museum will come up on 10 acres of the 25-acre plot

When one thinks of Alibaug, Jewish heritage is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. For the Bene Israel Jewish community though, the coastal town is the home of their ancestors, ever since they first arrived there in 175 BC. Some of their forefathers' homes are still standing, and it is at one of these ancestral plots that the community plans to build a museum to showcase their history.

Nissim Moses visited India two years ago to ask for permission to restore his ancestral home in Alibaug. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Nissim Moses visited India two years ago to ask for permission to restore his ancestral home in Alibaug. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The community could not have picked a better spot to set up a Jewish museum – at the house that was built by Moses. No, not the prophet Moses. The house was built by the forefathers of present-day Bene Israel descendant Nissim Moses, whose family was among thousands of Jews who moved back to their homeland after the state of Israel was formed in 1948.

Ralphy JhiradRalphy Jhirad

His ancestral home, however, still stands proudly at the same 25-acre plot where at least four generations of his family had lived out their days. The government will now transfer the house and the land to the community, where they intend to build the Bene Israel Heritage Museum and Convention Centre.

Nissim Moses

"The Bene ancestors lived in wadis back in the day, and one of the houses that still stand used to belong to the Moses family. The museum will be built in the same plot," said Ralphy Jhirad, the brain behind the project and the president and managing trustee of the Bene Israel Heritage Museum and Genealogical Research Centre.

CM promises help
"Two years ago, Nissim Moses came to India and we wrote to the Chief Minister, seeking to restore this house. The authorities responded stating that they would grant the land to us, so we could develop the museum there. They assured us of their full support," Jhirad added.

The museum will be built on a 10-acre parcel out of the entire 25-acre plot near Awas beach in Alibaug. "The government is in the final stages of signing the land over to us, and as soon as the order is signed, the blueprint will be finalised. There will be a cultural heritage museum, as well as an experiential centre. It will depict how the Jews first arrived in India in 175 BC - more than 2,000 years ago. There will be sculptures, models, and photographs, as well as a special pavilion with exhibitions on the life of Jews in India," said Jhirad.

Experience the lifestyle
"At the experiential centre, people can take part in activities that will allow them to experience our ancestors' lifestyle. The purpose will be to educate the whole world about the beautiful heritage of this country. People can come here and make poha, handle a rice mill or oil-pressing centre first-hand, and basically experience how our ancestors lived. We would like schools, colleges, and individuals from all over the world to come here and experience Jewish heritage," said Jhirad.

The community hopes to complete the project in three years. "As of now, the journey has just begun. I met the CM last Sunday, and he assured us that things are progressing well. We are confident that the Maharashtra government will take this initiative for the benefit of the Jewish community."

'Will never forget India'
Speaking to mid-day from Israel, Nissim Moses, 76, said, "India is the only country where Jews have not suffered any sort of Antisemitism. The hospitality shown by the Maharashtrian people is like no other. Just because I'm in Israel doesn't mean I have forgotten the kindness of India and its people."

3
Number of years in which the museum is expected to be built

100
Age of Nissim Moses's house

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