Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindus & Muslims take care of Kerala’s Jewish minority

Sarah Cohen, Kochi's oldest living Jew, 93 years old
Sarah Cohen, Kochi’s oldest living Jew, 93 years old

KOCHI: According to a local, the street was once home to as many as 11 synagogues. But now only the Pardesi Synagogue stands, believed to have been built in the 15th century. Visitors now pay Rs 5 for an entry. “We are doing what we can to ensure that the synagogue continues to be functional in view of the handful of Jews left here,” says Yaheh Hallegua, who is in her early 40’s, the youngest of the community. She works as the in-charge of the synagogue. A lot of tourists visit the synagogue, which is situated at the end of the Jew Street, which has over a 100 shops, mostly selling antiques and arts and crafts owned by Kashmiris.

“It is difficult to believe that there were thousands of Jews here until the early 50s,” says Sarah Cohen, 93, the oldest living Jew in the locality. A middle-aged Muslim looks after her, besides managing the household for nearly 15 years now, since the passing of her husband.

“Sarah is the most popular and well-known among the seven living Jews,” says Santhi John, a shop-owner and neighbour. “Both Indian and foreign tourists make a beeline to her shop because she is always happy for an interaction,” she adds.

K J Joy, the Hindu caretaker of the Pardesi Synagogue for over 25 years informs with pride that the blue-and-white-tiled floors were imported from China and the candle-lamps from Belgium and other countries.

“I pray for peace and well-being of the town; after all, it is the only place I have been associated with since my childhood. There is no question of me leaving my 150-year old house that was built by my ancestors. I would die here like just my husband and my grandparents,” Sarah adds.

Read more: Communal Harmony

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