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JEWISH Kochi

Jewish city story of Kochi

Jewish Kochi (also known as Cochin) is a city in southwest India's coastal Kerala state. It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbor and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship. Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, typical of Kochi, have been in use for centuries.

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אתרים מומלצים Sites to see

Sites

Chendamangalam Synagogue and Museum

The Chendamangalam Synagogue is one of the oldest known synagogues built by the Malabar Jews, in Chendamangalam, a village in the Ernakulam district of the coastal state of Kerala. It is dated to 1100 A.D, though the synagogue structure itself dates to 1420 A.D or 1614 A.D., making it the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. A tombstone recovered from Shingly was stored in this synagogue and is presently on display in the courtyard in front. This tombstone with the inscription of Sarah bat Israel is the oldest Jewish relic found in India, dating to 1270 A.D. After the entire congregation made aliyah to Israel in 1950s, the synagogue was defunct for decades. Today it serves as a Kerala Jews Lifestyle Museum for the Muziris Project, a conservation project by the Government of Kerala. The synagogue has been restored and has an exhibit open to visitors from 9:30 to 5:00 during the week. A tombstone recovered from Shingly was stored in this synagogue and is presently on display in the courtyard in front. This tombstone with the inscription of Sarah bat Israel is the oldest Jewish relic found in India, dating to 1270 A.D. The Chendamangalam Synagogue Musuem showcases the lives and rituals of Kerala Jews who were firm believers and lived in close contact with the local society. The synagogue is located inside high walls that surround it. The wall in front is as high as the front elevation. When you cross the front door, it is the Azara, with a vast prayer room behind it. The balcony that projects into the prayer room is the second Bimah (elevated platform for Torah reading). Supporting it are two stone pillars with intricate carvings. The position of the Ark is on the wall across the door, and it is a beautiful piece of art in teak with carved images. On the wooden planks on the roof are carved images of lotus that are painted. On both sides of the Bimah are two rows of bench. There is a spiral staircase to climb up to the second Bimah.

Sites

Kadavumbagam Synagogue

In a most unlikely setting, the Kadavambagam synagogue in Ernakulam (a 45-minute drive away from Jew Town) sits in the midst of a crowded market, hidden behind a plant and aquarium shop called Cochin Blossoms that incorporates hamsas on its sign. The current synagogue is the restored oldest synagogue of the Malabar Jews, with a Sefer Torah scroll and offering occasional services. It was established in 1200 CE and restored several times through the centuries on the same site. It is modeled on the earliest synagogue of the Malabar Jews at Muziris from the ancient times of Mediterranean sea trade with Kerala. The earliest synagogue of the ancient Malabar Jews is today submerged in the sea following the gradual rise of sea level over several millennia. Although the Chendamangalam Synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue structure in Kerala and Indian subcontinent (established in 1166 CE), its Torah scrolls were taken to Israel by it congregation in 1952. This makes the Kadavumbhagham Ernakulam synagogue the oldest Malabar Jewish synagogue today (since its restoration in 2018) with a Torah scroll that is occasionally used for services. The Paradesi Sephardic synagogue at Mattancherry also has Torah scrolls but it was established much later in 1568. The Sabbath services at the Kadavumbhagam Ernakulam synagogue continued till 1972 when a large portion of the community immigrated to Israel by 1972 along with the Torah scrolls. For decades, the Kadavumbhagham Synagogue at Ernakulam remained without any Sabbath services and without a Sefer Torah. Today the synagogue is nested within the bustling market at Ernakulam with a thriving aquarium in the front area near the synagogue operating since 1985. After much effort, the Kadavumbhagham Ernakulam synagogue was restored and the Sefer Torah brought back to the synagogue in 2018 after 46 years. Today there are only two synagogues in Kochi that have Torah scrolls: the Paradesi synagogue of the Sephardic Jews in Mattancherry and the Kadavumbhagham Ernakulam synagogue of the ancient Malabar Jews.

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World Jewish Travel Official January 15, 2023

The Jewish Story of Kochi, India

Jewish Kochi (also known as Cochin) is a city in southwest India's coastal Kerala state. It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbor and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship. Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, typical of Kochi, have been in use for centuries. The Jews of Kochi are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots that are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon. The Kochi Jews settled in the Kingdom of Kochi in South India, now part of the state of Kerala. As early as the 12th century, mention is made of the Jews in southern India by Benjamin of Tudela. They are known to have developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of Malayalam language.  [caption id="attachment_43088" align="alignnone" width="1884"] A Malabar Jewish family (1930)[/caption] Following their expulsion from Iberia in 1492 by the Alhambra Decree, a few families of Sephardi Jews eventually made their way to Kochi in the 16th century. They became known as Paradesi Jews (or Foreign Jews). The European Jews maintained some trade connections to Europe, and their language skills were useful. Although the Sephardim spoke Ladino, in India they learned Judeo-Malayalam from the Malabar Jews. The two communities retained their ethnic and cultural distinctions. In the late 19th century, a few Arabic-speaking Jews, who became known as Baghdadi, also immigrated to southern India, and joined the Paradesi community. After India gained its independence in 1947 and Israel was established as a nation, most of the Malabar Jews made Aliyah and emigrated from Kerala to Israel in the mid-1950s. In contrast, most of the Paradesi Jews (Sephardi in origin) preferred to migrate to Australia and other Commonwealth countries, similar to the choices made by Anglo-Indians. Synagogues Most of their synagogues still exist in Kerala, with a few being sold or adapted for other uses. Among the 8 synagogues that survived till the mid-20th century, only the Paradesi synagogue still has a regular congregation. Today it also attracts tourists as a historic site. A few synagogues are in ruins and one was even demolished and a two-storeyed house was built in its place. The Chendamangalam synagogue was reconstructed in 2006 as Kerala Jews LifeStyle Museum.  [caption id="attachment_42978" align="alignnone" width="2000"] Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, India[/caption] Jew Town The historic Jew Town is the heart of the once-thriving Jewish community and a popular spot for tourists today. At the center of Jew Town is Synagogue Lane, where one can find antiques, carvings, and vintage items for sale, along with Keralan crafts and local spices. The neighborhood was once lined with Jewish homes and shops that are now mostly owned by Muslims.  [caption id="attachment_42991" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Popular shopping street in Jew Town, Kochi, India[/caption] Notable Jewish Figures  Joseph Rabban, the first leader of the Jewish community of Kodungallur, was given copper plates of special grants from the Chera ruler Bhaskara Ravivarman II from Kerala Sarah bat Israel, whose tombstone (d. 1249 A.D) is the oldest found in India and is currently located at the Chendamangalam Synagogue [caption id="attachment_43089" align="alignnone" width="608"] Tombstone of Sarah bat Israel, Credit: Dr. Ajay B, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons[/caption] Eliyah ben Moses Adeni, a 17th century Hebrew poet from Kochi. Nehemiah ben Abraham (d. 1615 A.D), (Nehemiah Mutha), patron saint of Malabar Jews Abraham Barak Salem (1882–1967), Kochi Jewish Indian nationalist leader Benjamin Meyuhasheem, the last Kochi Jew in Seremban, Malaysia Meydad Eliyahu, Israeli artist  

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