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St. Johns Diocesan Girls Higher Secondary School St Margaret’s School
The Jewish Girls school - Heritage Schools
1994    Dibyendu Banerjee    18/07/2019

Located at 63 Park Street, The Jewish Girls' School (JGS) is one of the oldest schools for girls in the city of Calcutta. Members of the Jewish community, concerned about the unwanted influence of the Christian missionaries on their children attending mission schools, opened the Jewish Girls' School on 18 January 1881, to impart Jewish education to their children. Since its inception the JGS has shifted its location thrice.

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Initially, the Jewish Girls' School in Calcutta started working from a building located in a residential area on Ezra Street until a new three-story building was erected for the school under the direction of E M D Cohen, on 8 Pollock Street, opposite the Beth El synagogue. However, by the 1950s the area on Pollock Street had become too congested and many members of the Jewish community had by that time, shifted to the posh Chowringhee area. Accordingly, a sprawling plot of land was purchased in the area and consequently, the school shifted to its new building at 63 Park Street.

The Jewish Girls School

Until the early twentieth century, the JGS assumed an informal and Baghdadi character. During those days, as there was no specific dress code or school uniform, the girls from the rich and affluent family made their presence in the school wearing expensive dresses, while the poorer used to wear plain skirts and blouses. On the other hand, the teachers used to teach from comfortable armchairs and the school was described as having a relaxed and easy-going atmosphere.

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That casual approach ended in 1929, when England-trained Miss Ramah Luddy became the principal and enforced greater discipline in the school. The armchairs were replaced by armless chairs and school uniforms, physical education and gym were introduced, the latter being made mandatory.

The Jewish Girls School

During the heydays of their settlement in the city of Calcutta, the Jewish community was around 6,000 strong. They were mostly of Baghdadi Jews and were engaged in different types of lucrative businesses. However, their number declined drastically in the city after the independence of India in 1947 and the subsequent formation of the ‘Promised Land’, the Jewish state of Israel in 1948. Those two important political events in the middle of the last century led to a very rapid dissolution of the community in the city, as most of the members of the Jewish community emigrated to Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and Australia at a rapid pace. Consequently, the number of Jewish girls in the JGS came down drastically.

The Jewish Girls School
Inside the JGS

Realizing that the community was fast dwindling, the JGS decided to open its doors to non-Jewish students as well, in the 1960s. In the early 1990s, the Muslim students comprised about 50 percent of the student body, since the area behind the school had by that time became increasingly Muslim and lower middle-class in composition. Today, while they represent about 90 percent of the student body, the teachers and staff come from all the communities. However, as some of the Muslim students come from most orthodox and conservative families, they often change from salwar kameez and hijab, once they get to school where they put on their uniform.

The Jewish Girls School
Stars of David on the podium
The Jewish Girls School
The David Star on uniform

The JGS was formally registered under the Societies Registration Act. As traces of the past, the girls still have a Magen David (the Star of David) on their uniforms as well as on the school notebooks and some Jewish holidays are still on the calendar. Though neither the students, nor the staff members belong to the Jewish community, the JGS celebrated its125th year in 2006, along with the celebration of its Jewish heritage. The name of the Gubbay family, who arranged for the new building of the school, is displayed prominently in the school.

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It is interesting to know that, the same Gubbay family also donated the Gubbay House to the Alipore Zoological Gardens in Calcutta, situated on the western flank of the compound. The walls of the large school hall are decorated with the pictures of all the Jewish patrons and the ex presidents of the school. Wooden plaques recording the names of the Jewish girls graduated from the school each year are also proudly displayed in the main hall. Other than these few traces of the school's Jewish history, there is very little to distinguish the school from other English medium schools in the city.

The Jewish Girls School

The Jewish Girls' School in Calcutta is affiliated to the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations and accordingly prepares the students for ICSC and ISC examinations. To support the diverse talents of the students, the extracurricular activities of the School include a karate club, basketball, drama, debate, and public speaking, spoken English, cookery, art and craft, needlework, dance, quiz and nature clubs. Located in the heart of the city, the Jewish Girls' School is equipped with a playground, a basketball court, a music room, an art and craft room, an audio-visual room, a well-stocked library, physics, science labs, computer labs and a hygienic canteen.

The Jewish Girls School
St. Johns Diocesan Girls Higher Secondary School St Margaret’s School
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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