Adopting a transnational perspective, this article investigates the history, mobility and identity of Baghdadi Jews in South, East and Southeast Asia and in Europe between 1850 and 1950. Unlike previous works on the subject, which have focused mainly on the magnates among the Baghdadis of the Asian hubs, this article also includes many references to the middle classes. The first part of the article examines how Baghdadis in the Asian hubs transformed their collective identity by dwelling in and across India, Singapore, Burma (Myanmar) and China and what role did mobility play in this process. Individuals travelled for reasons and work or leisure, they exchanged money and commodities, used different languages (among them Judeo-Arabic and English), and objects circulated too; among them liturgical and religious objects, as well as the Jewish press. The second part analyzes what was the significance of Europe for this group. London represented a point of arrival for many of the most successful traders among them, especially the tycoons. However, in the first half of the twentieth century other capitals (Paris, Madrid, and even New York) acquired a growing relevance in connection to the contemporary contraction of the Sephardic space and expansion of the Ashkenazi one. Sources for this work come from oral history repositories at the National Archives of Singapore, the Hong Kong Oral History Project, the memorial website Jewish Calcutta and from the contemporary Jewish press, and in particular the Shanghai based monthly publication Israel’s Messenger.
Tag: Jews in Asia