Thursday, September 10, 2020

‘Aray! Bhai Hum Ko Biryani Khilau’: Pakistan-born Jews hope to visit birthplace again

Emanuel Matat says Muslim carriage riders in Karachi sometimes even didn’t take money from Jews for taking them to synagogue

Emanuel Matat says Muslim carriage riders in Karachi sometimes even didn’t take money from them. Photos by reporter.

DUBAI: The historic pact between the UAE and Israel has raised hopes of Pakistan-born Jews living in Israel to visit their birthplace sometime soon.

At the time of the creation of Pakistan, there were around 2,500 Jews living in Karachi only with one synagogue named “Magen Shalom” in the city’s Ranchore Lines area.

Many Karachi-born Jews speak the Urdu language with clarity because they had received their education in Karachi during 50s and 60s, then moved to Israel and other parts of the world.

A member of a Jewish family, Emanuel Matat told The News from Israel, “Aray! Bhai Hum Ko Biryani Khilau” (Please! make Biryani for me... I would love to visit Pakistan).

The residents of the UAE can now directly make a telephonic call in Israel after the authorities in the Gulf state lifted the calling restriction between two countries.

Emanuel Matat also wishes to visit Karachi although it is still a dream but he has made a plan to visit Dubai soon.

Image of Emanuel Matat's passport. 

59-year-old Matat migrated with a heavy heart three decades back from Pakistan. He and his 10 siblings are the only Jews he knows who were born in Pakistan. Matat’s family was the last Jewish family to leave Pakistan in the late 80s but the sweet memories of Karachi always take them to the city.

“When my father got married in 1957 in Karachi, there were 600 Jewish families living in Karachi,” Matat told the publication.

He got education from BVS School in Saddar and has wonderful memories of a peaceful multi-cultural megacity.

“My father, Rehamim, was a big businessman and he didn’t want to leave, he liked Pakistan a lot,” recalls Matat. The family was in the carpet industry and Jewish buyers from all over the world would order them.

“I would not have left Pakistan if there had been no family compulsion,” says Matat. According to Matat, there are no Jews left in Karachi and as far as Matat knows there are no Jewish communities elsewhere in Pakistan too.

However, some media reports suggested there are over 700 Jews living in Pakistan.

Pakistan Bene Israel Community (Magen Shalom Synagogue) in Karachi.

Not even Karachi’s main synagogue, Magen Shalom, has survived. Built in 1893, it was destroyed in 1988 to make way for a shopping plaza. The Jewish cemetery is still there – but with no one to look after it.

Matat misses his country of birth and says if, given the chance, he’d return to live in Pakistan. Matat proudly showed his old Pakistani passport where his religion “Jewish” is also written.

He recalled that Jews used to gather at Karachi’s synagogue especially on Saturdays, the Jewish holy day.

“Muslim carriage riders sometimes even didn’t take money from us,” he said about the peaceful and tolerant city of that time.

Besides Matat, some other Jews also spoke but on condition of anonymity. They said that they spent their childhood in Karachi but now the situation had changed. They also dream of visiting Karachi some day. A few said that the graves of their ancestors and loved ones were there and they wanted to visit them.

There are graves of the Jewish community in two cemeteries in Karachi.