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jeudi 2 avril 2015


Nowhere in the world, can one witness the harmony between the religions and cultures as one sees in this part of Kerala. This is not a politically correct behavior imposed upon the people but one which has prevailed for centuries among all the inhabitants of the land here, of varying persuasion. The magnanimity of a civilization is expressed in its tolerance of its difference and protection of that difference, the great Jewish Historian of Islam and Arab speaking people had commented (Bernard Lewis) Desecration of this trust puts a dark light upon all the population, not just the majority or minority cultures.

In case of Mala in Kerala, the cultures currently represented are unique in that while the three religions, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism are proportionately represented, the cultural identity is a strong Linguistic Identity, that of the Malayalam speaking people.

When one enters the Mala synagogue, a wonderful sensation greets the visiting Jew. Here in the interior of this abundant land, a branch of the Jews from Kodangallur, also known as Craganore or Shingly,  had transplanted themselves, built a community which could sustain such a large and magnificent edifice to recite the prayers. In the area around the Mala synagogue there were shops and godowns (warehouses) of the local Jewry. Even after the sudden disappearance of the Mala Jews, by emigration, in 1955, we see the spirit of cooperation and harmony, when a glad Christian shopkeeper, named Jose,  proudly showed us his shop which until recently was Jewish owned.

A short walk away from the synagogue one sees the waterway that led them to Kodangallur and return, the continued connections to other parts of the Jewish world of Kerala were maintained through these trade and passenger routes
Possibility of any Jewish presence in the future in Mala, is very remote; the children of the Jews who left are so well integrated into the life of Israel.
The preservation of the history of an important community, one of the colours of the fabric of life of people in these parts of the world, is in the hands of people who live here, the history of Jews is part of the history of all peoples of Kerala.
While the synagogue retains the possibility of returning to its former glory, through efforts of such erudite scholars such as Prof Karmachandran of Trichur, the same cannot be said of the desecrated and abandoned cemetery where over the millennia, thousands of souls were buried. Only three tombs stand, all of them in very poor shape.

I couldn’t keep thinking of the desecrated and abandoned Jewish cemeteries of Europe or the vandalism of Palestinians of ancient tombstones in Jerusalem before 1967, and the willful destruction of Jewish tombs in all Arab countries which once had a million Jewish souls. Unlike those countries, there is a genuine interest in Kerala to keep this heritage alive as has happened to the synagogues at Paroor and Chengamangalam.
Mala synagogue and its cemetery deserve greater attention. Globalization and commercialization can never erase the millennial history of the Jewish presence in this special land of Kerala, blessed with such harmony of relationships with outsiders or Paradesis as they were called in the centuries past and the local population. Architecturally the synagogue is a gem, a good example of Kerala Synagogue architecture.

Tomorrow we begin remembering the history of the slavery and redemption from Egypt of the Jewish people, 3400 years ago. In keeping up with the fine spirit of remembering, may the defenders of harmony and history such as Prof. Karmachandran from Trichur and Biju Thomas and many others from Fort Cochin, succeed. Let the future generations be given a chance to learn firsthand the glorious history of Kerala and its contribution to this day of harmony among people who are lucky to live within its natural boundaries.
The tolerance continues to this day, enhanced by the intellectuals of Fort Cochin. I was in the company of a Hindu and a Christian on my visit to the Synagogue at Mala, a Muslim friend met us at Paroor Synagogue, my visit to Fort Cochin was made easier by a good friend of mine, a Christian merchant who gave me a copy of the book about the architecture of Mosques of Fort Cochin . (researched and written by an American Jew, supported by the American Ford Foundation). 

This sense of amity and tolerance has millenial roots. There is a manuscript of Quran in Hebrew script written in COCHIN in the 1700s, translated from French by  a dutch Jewish convert, scribed by a German Jew residing in Cochin at that time!