Bombay’s merchant prince and philanthropist David Sassoon arrived in the city in 1832 after fleeing Baghdad due to persecution by Iraqi ruler Dawud Pasha. “At a stopover in Bushire, a port town in south west Iran, he went to a palmist and asked for advice about where he could make his fortune. The palmist suggested India,” says Ralphy Jhirad, a Bene Israeli Jew, while standing at the foot of a towering marble statue of Sassoon in the foyer of the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.
In the last 30 years, Ralphy and his wife, Yael, have related this tale to countless Jewish tourists curious to know more about the community’s 2000-year-old history in India. As India’s most celebrated Baghdadi Jew, who amassed immense wealth and set up a trading empire straddling both Asia and Europe, the Sassoon patriarch is a captivating figure for foreign visitors. Ralphy equates David Sassoon with Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a European Jew, who established an international banking family through his five sons. “The Sassoon family was called the Rothschilds of the East because David placed his three sons in England, China and Japan and then traded with those countries through them,” he explains.
Yael calls Ralphy one of the “pioneers” of Jewish tourism in India because he conducted his first big tour for a British rabbi and his 45 congregants as far back as 1985. He then approached the tourism department and convinced them to include a Jewish module in the tour guides’ course. “They liked the idea,” recalls Ralphy, who drafted the syllabus and became a faculty member. Yael took the course and is today listed on Mumbai’s Tourist Guides Association (TOGA) website. She says over a 100 tourists approach her for the Jewish heritage tour each season.
Read the full report here, Times of India