Marco Pola - A traveller (f)

Cochin and me

…and/or Who is a Jew?

Cochin, India 10/03/08

When travelling in India there is so much to see in that vast continent, and so many wonderful places, that’s important to choose the subject matter of ones interest.

I choose to visit Cochin because of the Jewish long history of the town, so I travelled 20 hours on 3 trains to get there.

I am happy to announce again that Jewish roots are deep inside me – even being an ‘Yehudi Chilony’. (Yehudia Chilonit)
My Jewishness is wakened when needed. [In my visit in Bet Chabad in Bangkok, when talking to the Rabi, he said: It’s a wrong to use the word ‘Chilony’ as it means ‘chol’ = ‘Sand’, and Jewish are Holy. Which means that it have to be reminded to the Media, Press and New publications etc.]

Typical window in Jew Road, Cochin

Seeing that long Jewish history of that picturesque town, and the vivid road called: Jew Town – a busy place, full of business with lovely spicy aroma all over that street. Lucky enough the name of that old street was not renamed.

That opened in me the wounds of our unresolved political situation in my home land = Israel.

Cochin brings a history of town that it’s people embraced the Jews for many generations. They were welcomed because of the Jews unique business qualities & ability, that was needy for the business & trade of the town with the out side world, they exported: spices, tea, ivory, teak, oils, peacocks etc. – .

On 1568 the synagogue of Cochin was build, extremely near the Maharajah’s Palace. The walls of Maharajah’s palace touched the synagogue’s court yard, the cemetery, & the congregations homes, all to protect the Jews!

The Jews first settled in that part of India, as far as 992 BC on Sholom’s time, the King of Israel. Than, when the Jews fled on 70 AC all over the wold and to India, some say. Joseph Raba – A Jewish leader, got the Magna Carta in Cochin on 379 AC, 3 pliz plates that declared honor to the Jews. Even Marco Polo among ancient travellers mentioned Jews in Quilon.
Joseph AZAR, a Jewish Prince swam with his wife on his back on 1524. They fled from the Portuguese (at time of the Spanish Acquisition) and got the protection of the Maharajah of Cochin. Hs was later the one to build the Synagogue. In one of the paintings we can see the Maharajah’s family watching over the window looking at the synagogue’s foundations.

The Synagogue itself is full of visitors from all ever the world. The atmosphere if of tranquility and simplicity with old glory. It’s one of the 10 main attractions of the city. The main hall is nearly empty but some old bunches next to the walls, and in the centre the Reading area of the Torah, 3 steps high. Chinese hand painted tiles were laid in 1762 on the synagogue’s flour, a total of 1100 tiles were brought over from Canton in China, no one of the tails alike. On the western wall towards the east there is a red cover, behind there are at some Torah books with golden & silver crowns. (not to be seen only on ceremonies.) Every Friday & Suturday there is a ceremony, for Jews only. Jewish people are invited to come for Minian, as there are only 15 men & women in the congregation.
On the Second flour there is Esrat Nashim, behind a wooden decoration.

Moses Pereya from the Jewish community in Amsterdam send from Cochin his report on 1686. That first & most important historical document that was ever written or published of the Jews in Cochin: There were 4 synagogues and 128 families in Cochin, another 4 synagogues in the greater area with around 62 families and 550 people.

On the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Synagogue, with the presents of Smt. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, and a special stamp and first day cover were issued, there was great pride of all sides.

It’s exciting for me to see that kind of respect for my people. That’s the basic Hindu perception to the ‘other’ on general. Hindu have great tolerance to others no matter what & who they are, or of what religion.

When most of that Indian community arrived in Israel on 1949, with great excitement – the BIG Question rose, like time and again –
Who is a Jew?