dimanche 5 avril 2015

SHABBAT SHALOM FROM FORT COCHIN IN MALABAR COAST

SHABBAT SHALOM FROM COCHIN 
DR.YEHUDA, La Habana, Cuba
Friday, 20th March 2015.
The morning began brightly enough, Rexy the owner driver of the car arrived promptly at 7 30 AM, and while waiting for our friend, Mr Biju Thomas, Historian and Tour Guide, a breakfast of Idiappam and  Egg Curry and the first of the many teas of the day was waiting at the City Light Café.


I have been having breakfast here everyday, first of all, it is one of the few places open at 7 30 am and it is a nice feeling to be eating with the local people who are preparing for their day. A nice little participant observation

The pleasant Muslim owner of the place always greets me with a smile, after all he has seen me three days in a row.

Cochin is an unusual place because of the genuine cooperation and respect each of the three major religions have for each other. All three are very religious and observant communities, On my way over to the Restaurant in the morning I have to pass by the Basilica (founded 1505) and it is crowded with the morning worshipers!


I THOUGHT OF THE GREAT CHINESE ADMIRAL CHENG HO/ZHENG HE WHO BROUGHT THESE CHINESE FISHING NETS TO COCHIN. HE VISITED COCHIN FOUR TIMES WITH THE LARGEST ARRAY OF SHIPS THE PORT HAD EVER SEEN

Fort Cochin harbor is bustling with activity at this time of the morning, ferries arriving from the mainland and a short ferry ride to cross the waters to the other side, to the island of Vypeen.
INDIAN ENGLISH: HOTEL MEANS A CAFE AND NOT A PLACE TO BED DOWN

MENU WAS PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED. MY FRIENDS WANTED ME TO TRY SOME LOCAL DELICACIES WHICH I WAS MORE THAN WILLING TO DO. A NICE CUP OF TEA AS WELL

We stopped for a cup of tea on the way and by 10 am arrived at the abandoned cemetery at Mala, This ancient community of Jews, having been here  for more than one thousand years, left for Israel lock stock and barrel in 1955


The cemetery is sadly neglected, only three graves could be seen, as recently as a few years ago, thirty had been recorded. The destruction of national heritage is a shame on the Local Government and also a black spot for the national pride of Indians of all persuasions.
One of the three graves in poor shape with the tombstone already lost . There were signs of deliberate destruction as well as damage done by time and elements
The Friends of the Kerala Jews, including various individuals, such as Prof Karmachandran from Trichur are trying to clear the legal aspects of these ancient monuments, so that they can be returned to their former glory
The abandoned synagogue at Mala is a beautiful structure and I felt such a sense of wholeness while inside this space so full of history and personality. There may have been a large enough community to support a synagogue of this size
The area around the synagogue, which was in the olden days connected by waterways to the important Jewish town of Cranganore or Kodungallur, were inhabited by Jews, who were traders and the buildings are supposed to be between 300 to 400 years old



This proud merchant was happy to show the inside the shop which before 1950s belonged to the Jews and he beamed when he said: this building is between 300 to 400 years old, I looked for old symbols of Judaism, such as the presence of mezuzah but to no avail. 


India must have been one of the only countries in the world where Jews were not met with hatred or anti Semitism but were universally loved and respected and accepted. They were well integrated into the life of India. Being Religious, they took to heart the commandment to return to Israel and left en masse. It is worth mentioning that India has one of the most pro-Israeli populations
I DONT KNOW WHAT THE POSTERS SAY BUT MOST EDUCATED COCHINITES KNOW AND RESPECT ERNESTO CHE GUEVARA

Kerala, the state in which Cochin is located is one of the first places where they elected Communists in a democratic vote. It warms my heart up to see posters of Che Guevara in the most unexpected of places, here a bill board promoting something or other and I hope it is the ideas of Che about Socialism and the modern man
A GORGEOUS RIVER TO CROSS, THOUGHT OF MA HUAN AND ZHENG HE WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN HERE

Biju had gotten me a bunch of flowers to offer at the nexst stop across the river, the reconstructed Chendamangalam synagogue. This river is a tributary of the mighty Periyar river and this river is mentioned in the chronicles of Ma Huan who accompanied the great Chinese admiral. Cheng Ho or Zheng He.



The Oldest tombstone  with Hebrew letters In India



Thought to be of Sarah bat Israel, bought over from Cragnanore dated,1264 of the common era.




The reconstruccted inside of the Chendamangalam synagoue.The original was dismantled and taken with the emigrants to Nevatim settlement in Israel
The Jewish cemetery at Chendamangalam is entirely neglected. Very sad state of affairs


I wondered to my self, where are the descendants ot those who left for Israel just 50 years ago? Where is their sense of historic continuity and pride?  Don’t they reccognize that here lies someone’s relative? I said a quick Kaddish and may the spirit of the person be blessed and may he be remembered.

When I told my mizrachi brother Eliyahu, born in Bombay and brought up in Kobe, about a similar ceremony which was done for me, he made fun of me and said I had just imagined it.
I don’t remember where or when, I was taken to a teacher at the age of 3 and asked to repeat the letters after him. After each letter, I was given a piece of sweet, and the blessings said: May all your learning be as sweet as this.
It did work, didn't it? (becoming one of the very few Physician Anthropologists!)
Whilst the synagogue is beautifully restored, the situation at the Jewish cemetery is more than pathetic. Unkempt, graves disintegrating, it is an insult to the memory of the jews buried here, over the course of hundreds of years. The most famous Cochini in Israel may be from Chendamangalam, but where are the descendants who have left the souls of their ancestors in such a sad state? It is not as if the cemetery is in an Arab country or Iran where Jews cannot visit. 
THIS REMINDED ME OF THE CENOTE IN CHICHEN ITZA IN YUCATAN, MEXICO




GRATEFUL TO THE HINDU, CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM COCHINIS TRYING TO PRESERVE THE MEMORY OF THE JEWS WHO ONCE THRIVED HERE 

Third synagogue visited was the beautiful Parur synagogue
The architecture and decoration inside is very typically Kerala Jewish. The Bimah facing the torah and chandeliers to light the synagogue and the men sitting downstairs in benches where as women sat upstairs in their gallery







The wood work that now covers where once Torah scrolls stood is magnificent and the best example I have seen. There is a similar beautiful one at the synagogue in Ernakulam in Kerala,under the guardianship of Mr Elias 
The high ceilings decorated with motives and the upstairs gallery are seen in this photograph

At the Bimah

A group of girls from Ferook College of Calicut University were visiting, as part of their course requirements. The teacher asked me whether I could give an impromptu lecture to them. Most of them appeared to be Muslim.

I praised the town they come from,Calicut. Both Vasco da Gama and Cheng Ho landed there, and talked about Tolerance for other people and also the need to become independent and studious. I wished them to be like the women of Iran and told them that majority of the engineering and professional students in Iran are women.


THE SIMILARITY OF SACRED ARCHITECTURE IN KERALA, REGARDLESS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION IS AMAZING INDEED.  I REFER YOU TO A BOOK BY ARCHITECT PATRICIA TUSA FELS


NEAR THE SYNAGOGUE WAS THIS MAGNIFICENT EXAMPLE OF KERALA ARCHITECTURE

Some ancestors of  Lea Bleuenn  are from the Brittany coast and lighthouses are a symbols of that wild coast, Lea has grown up with these and we made a detour to go by this Lighthouse .


On returning to Fort Cochin, it was nice to see the distinct architecture of  colonial masters. Like the travelers of yesteryear this is the first building to confront on coming to Cochin.
THIS BUILDING KNOWN BY ITS BRITISH NAME ASPINWALLS, WAS BUILT BY THE PORTUGUESE AND THOUGHT TO HAVE HOUSED A LARGE LIBRARY




Tavernier, the French historian had talked about Cochin Library: most of the books had been gathered in Europe, there were hand written copies of books in Indian languages, Chinese, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew were in this library. it was burnt down by the Dutch.
I was fortunate enough to be in Fort Cochin during the Biennale and the quality and variety of the presentations were superb 
Watched the movie Persopolis by Marjane Restrapi from Iran living in France at the Biennale. Each night they showed a different movie: apart from the above, I saw a movie from Senegal, one from Burkina Faso with Sembene Ousmane
The movies, from Iran and Burkina Faso and Mali (about genital mutilation)were  in stark contrast with the tolerance which prevails in Cochin. All movies of this week had empowerment of women as the theme
It was time to say the Shabbat greetings
Shabbat Shalom from Fort Cochin

Dear Family, thinking of all of you, missing all of you very much. But what a wonderful day it was for me in the Jewish Cochin.. where there are only memories of a glorious history of the Jewish people for over 2000 years
The maintenance of this memory is in the hands of Non Jews, scholars and historians alike and after spending one day with them, visiting these monuments I am convinced that the Jewish Heritage is safe, thanks to these scholars and their supporters.
SanJan the genial caretaker of Niyati Boutique Homestay where I spent nearly ten days, was graceful enough to take an Auto Rikshaw and stand in line at the Prison like shop where they sell beer and wine and procured me a bottle of very weak red wine. Grover wineyards also have wine, palatable that is all. On my next visit, I plan to bring my own.
But thanks to Sanjan, I could say the Kiddush.. like it would have been said in Portuguese Jewish communities such as Kingston, Jamaica
The following picture is of:


A Mikvah belonging to the Koder family is preserved on the grounds of a Hotel in Fort Cochin.

For serious students of Jewish History and Heritage, there are Non Jewish scholars resident in Fort Cochin and you may seek their counsel.
Shabbat Shalom from Fort Cochin