lundi 24 août 2015
FOOD, WINE AND GOOD CONVERSATION: A JEWISH FAMILY IN AFRICA
If I had travelled the eight hours on an Etihad Airways flight, then taken the train to the centre of town, checked into a Hilton Hotel and then went to see them for dinner, Indian Take Away Tucker, at their home, it would have been worth it.
It is one of those delightful get together with a family, where a family is family, a conversation going on, with every one participating, there are no quarrels, no one is shouting at another or discipline the way people were eating or drinking. Young and Old (three adults, two university students, and one high school student) participated in the conversation and it was truly a give and take. I learned so much and in fact an explanation of how the White Jews became “white” given out by the lady of the house was a very plausible one. The four dogs did not interfere in the dinner conversation. Two hours went so quickly….
It is truly one of the genuine pleasures of life, share a nice meal with a good family and have a congenial conversation, in which respectful information is exchanged and every one contributing to the best of their ability.
Lessons to take home:
As Gabo, Dali, Pablo all have demonstrated, behind every successful man there is a good and strong woman, Mercedes for Gabo, Gala for Dali, Matilda for Pablo..
Stockholm Nobel Prize 1982 Gabo with Mercedes
Many think that Dali's success was due to Gala, the talent was his own!
That is the look of LOVE.. Matilda with Pablo, who wrote a book of love poems when they met El Versos del Capitan. Pablo won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971
Dinner table is for conversation, to talk and discuss and not to shout and vent your anger and frustration and disappointments in life.
Be Happy with what you have, and not be unhappy with what you don’t have. ( Pierre Merrick, my UmonHon Indian Brother)
If you are a guest, leave the youngsters in the table some knowledge. For LBGS who is five, it is the difference between Alligators and Crocodiles. For the young adults tonight was a discussion on Jewish Cultural Identity and how differs from Jewish Religion.
Let the hostess decide the flow and direction of the conversation, Talk what they want to talk about, even if it is about Anthropological adventures in the Amazon or the reason for the popularity of politicians whether Trump in the USA or the failing grades for Dilma in Brazil.
What was interesting for me was the liberal opinion of these very highly intelligent people who had lived through Apartheid. Mullahs in Iran, who are unpopular with the educated Iranian public, were compared to the Broderbund during the Apartheid.
They asked me questions about the vanished (just about) Jewish community of Cochin and helped me answer, in discussion, how the 93 year old Sarah Cohen of Cochin who is of Yemeni Origin becomes part of the “white” Jewish Community?
The lady of the house explains Jewish males always travelled for trade. From Egypt, Yemen and Iraq (all names are new, Jews lived in El Fustat, there was a Jewish suburb of what later became Aden in Yemen and Baghdadi Jews always existed, Iraq is a fairly recent invention), Jewish traders in and around 10th Century of the Common era traded with Spain, Italy, India among other places. Travels involved months if not years and many traders like Abraham Ben Yiju who prayed at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in El Fu stat (later became part of Cairo) lived in Mangalore for 18 years.
It was a common practice for them to take local women, not as harem or concubines, which was the practice among Moslems (see Ibn Battuta, requesting that his concubines to be provided for during his journeys). We have reason to believe that the local women were converted to Judaism and the children brought up in the strict Jewish tradition of the day. Ben Yiju took his Kerala born (her mother was from the Nair Caste) Jewish daughter to Yemen and later to Egypt where she married the son of an illustrious Jewish family. In Cranganore, where the Malabar/Cochin Jews lived and worked, the traders and their families in a very short period of time, would have become large enough in number to separate themselves from the natives ( in this case, Hindu or Moslem or Christian Malayalam speaking people) and constitute themselves into a separate group. Money, lack of it and the influx of more Jews from Middle East and some remnants of the Expulsion from Spain, further the Malabar Jews into two groups, aided and abetted by the Colonial masters, particularly the British who were sensitive to such issues such as colour and racial origin.
( from an article on Cairo Geniza: Hundreds of letters buried in the genizah show that Jewish merchant princes set sail from Egypt or Yemen to India and returned along the Red Sea and Malabar Coast if they didn’t marry Indian women and settle there. Marriage contracts in the collection show that divorce was common. )
(a photo of Cairo Geniza, and a good book to read the history of Geniza and its discovery is Sacred Trash.)
Thus the conversation in this distant continent was helpful for me to further understand the sociocultural phenomenon which was later institutionalized as White and Black Jews of Cochin.
As I explained to a student who was at the table from Cape Town, being Jewish is about relationships, our relationships with each other not only at the level of the family, but historically and through time and distance and the genuine affection we feel for each other.
That breeds curiosity in us, curiosity is a very Jewish characteristic and it pays off in acquiring and accumulating knowledge, spreading it and turning it into a Mitzvah, a duty to help others, a humanitarian mission as well as Tikkun Olam, to heal the world.