lundi 14 novembre 2016

THE JEWISH COCHIN: TWO MIZRACHI BROTHERS IN COCHIN NOVEMBER 2016

This is a pictorial essay of a recent visit to the JEWISH COUNTRY in the COCHIN area in Malabar/Kerala, INDIA.
My brother Eliahu, was born in Bombay of Iraqi and Egyptian parents and grew up in Kobe and migrated to USA where he lives in Portland with his Egyptian Canadian wife and their three children.
We have travelled to Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Singapore, Cambodia twice, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos in the past. On this trip the highlights were Siem Reap, our third time there together, and an introduction to Malaysia for him and an introduction to Kerala and especially the Jewish Country with its millennial history.
PAROOR OR PARAVOOR, IN THE EX ROYAUME OF TRAVANCORE


in front of the synagogue at Paroor near Fort Cochin
A Hanukkia from Paroor
This is the Jew Street of Paroor, houses on both sides were occupied by Jews. There are no jewish presence now

an earliest evidence of Jewish presence in Kerala, four of the signatories, along with Muslim and Christians, were Jewish and they have inscribed their names in Hebrew. this is dated 849 of the common era and long before Inquisition. Jews of Kerala are mainly of Middle Eastern Origin, from the current day Iraq and Syria with a major infusion from Yemen. In the 1500s a straggling of jewish refugees from Inquisition joined who are referred to as Paradesi or Foreign Jews

It is interesting to note PASTEL which is a sefardic dish which found its way to Cochin.


If I were to show you just the photo below you wouldnt be able to tell to which religion this vernacular architecture belonged to in Kerala, as I have seen this type of architecture going back centuries in Mosques, Churches and Synagogues in Kerala
It is acknowledged that the intellectual centre of Cochin/Malabari Jewish community was Paroor. Joseph Rabban who received the copper plates for the principality of Anjuvanam near Muziris is supposed to have been buried here.
CHENDAMANGALAM
Just five kilometres away is the oldest Hebrew Inscription in India from 1239! of the CE, a tombstone, belonging to a Rachel Bat Israel, thus we are able to date the inland migration of the Jews from the coast.


When I told my brother Eliyahu about this above ceremony among the Mizrachim, he laughed at me. I distinctly remember a ceremony when I was asked to repeat letters and given sweets and instructed  May all your learnings be as sweet as this




Sadly, the cemetery which i had visited as recently as two years ago is completed overgrown by bush and not accessible. I always wondered why the Jews who left for Israel, who had no reason to dislike or hate India, do not make any effort to preserve the synagogues and their burial grounds?

MALA is the saddest place to visit, there is complete neglect of the synagogue and the cemetery despite the valiant efforts of a Hindu professor Karmachandran.




The highlight of the tour is to visit the last practising Jew of Cochin, Elias, who has done a marvellous job of restoring Kadavumbagam synagogue in Ernakulum around which he had grown up. Once he leaves for Israel, the Jewish presence in Cochin, of 2000 years will be forever silenced. 



The area around the synagogue, also called market street and Jew street was full of jewish stores and a photo of Elias' father hangs in one of them, olava ha shalom
a mezuzah at a shop entrance is a reminder than the entrire street was once joyously jewish... now rests only in the memory of one man, Elias
It is a pleasure to meet and chat and learn the TRUE history of the Jews of these parts. Elias has lived in experience of being an observant Jew and the knowledge of this vanished world. The Jewish community vanished a long time ago and its memory would be soon gone too..
PARADESI SYNAGOGUE OF MATTANCHERRY  is the easiest of the synagogues to access and there has bee a tremendous increase in the number of Indian tourists coming to learn about Jews and perchance even to see "one"!
The kind caretaker of the synagogue, a christian by the name of Joy, allowed me and my brother to say the prayers on shabbat after the lights had been lit by the lonely widow of Mr Sammy Hallegua. It was very emotional for both of us to pray, sing in the total silence of the synagogue which has witnessed so much history for the past 450 years!


the cemetery of the Paradesi synagogue is not accessible but is well kempt. reminded me of the Penang Jewish Cemetery of the Iraqi jews of Malaya


The Jews of Mattancherry, the so called White Jews ? who had arrived after 1501 did very well as traders especially under the Dutch and the British. The best known among them last century was Samuel Koder whose house above has been converted into a hotel and restaurant

The Yemeni connection is seen here at this tomb where people of all faiths pray was that of the Kabbalist from Yemen who had lived here in the 17th century. Brother and I lit candles and said Kaddish and prayed for our Mischpochah

women's gallery upstairs can be seen and there is also a second bimah upstairs. This synagogue is a thing of great beauty and hope it will be preserved as such for generations to come. Most of the tourists visiting the synagogue are Indian tourists. very few Jewish or foreign tourists make their way through the streets once thronged with jewish homes and shops which are now the hangouts of Kashmiri muslim tradesmen selling all sorts of tchotkis at inflated prices, irrelevant to the history of the synagogue or Kerala for that matter
as the shabbat was about to enter and we need to welcome it properly, we hurried back to the hotel and did our rituals properly
SHABBAT SHALOM FRM COCHIN