So on a Wednesday in June, 2014, I drove 40 minutes to my friend Haim's kibbutz north of Beersheva, picked him up and then drove another 20 minutes to Moshav Nevatim. Although the museum is open Sundays through Thursdays, it is best to call ahead in advance to arrange the tour with Mira, the docent and staffer of the Museum, and also to get directions to the museum once we entered the moshav grounds. We joined a group of retired Israeli men who, it turned out, had been co-workers with my friend years ago!
In 2010, only 40 Jews remained in Kerala, India with over 6000 living in Israel today.
The Heritage Center consists of 2 buildings, the museum and the moshav synagogue. The pictures of the synagogue are toward the end. Be sure to scroll down to see them. The synagogue is stunning! I wish I could recreate in photos the feeling I had when I walked in.
We began our visit at the Heritage Center. Mira tailors the tours to the groups, so with some groups she talks about food customs but not to this group of guys!
|Mira talking to group with photo of Cochin street|
|Movie room with pictures of community on wall|
|Cochin on the map, on the coast|
|A close-up of Cochin location and surrounding cities, in Hebrew|
|Outside a home in Cochin|
|Ark (aron kodesh) in synagogue in Cochin|
Cochin was the oldest Jewish community of India, with Jews arriving there as traders as early as 562 BCE and more coming after the destruction of the Second Temple. The continued as traders, especially as spice traders, specializing in pepper, throughout the centuries. There is evidence that Jews had reached India in Talmudic times. There was definitely a well-established Jewish community in Cochin in the 10tj century CE.
After the movie, we movied into the main room of the museum which housed artifacts from the community and also had signs explaining in Hebrew and English the historical background of the community and the items on display.
The first hard evidence of Jews in southern India was in the tenth century when they were granted certain civil rights. Copper plates substantiating that fact were given to the Jewish leader, Joseph Rabban. A large synagogue in the area built in the 12th century and still standing today offers hard evidence of the community's existence. The Jews flourished economically under the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries, with many attaining high positions. Under the British rule in the next two centuries, Jews assumed managerial roles in the public arena.
As of the 18th century, there were 8 communities of Cochin Jews, independently run by a council of sages, which corresponded with the rabbis of Jerusalem and Cairo.
In modern times, they maintained a comfortable lifestyle and were quite religious. The men continued to work in businesses and the women took care of the homes and the families. They lived in towns. The children attended public schools in the morning and studied Judaism in the afternoon in the local synagogues. With the creation of the State of Israel, many of the 3,000 Cochin Jews began making plans to move to Israel.
The Jews lived in two cities, Cochin and Ernakulam, and in three towns, Parur, Chendamangalam, and Mala. In each, the Jews tended to live in an area called "Jews Town" or "Synagogue Street.
|Holiday Lamp Holder|
|Pictures of special lamps in use|
Special lamps to mark the end of the Sabbath were lit using flames from the synagogue brought by children. The museum tells about the style of housing, the food they ate and special foods for the holidays, and their clothing. The Jews, like other cultural groups, were distinguished by their color of clothing.
|Grinding stones for making matzah for Passover|
|Grinding stones for spices|
|Stones for making and grinding matzah|
|Stones for grinding spices|
|Jewelry shown in the movie|
The synagogues of Cochin were the centers of community affairs as well as centers for prayer and ritual. They all were the same style: a long two-story stone building decorated with wood carvings. The bimah (pulpit) was in the center on the ground floor and the Torah ark on the wall opposite the entrance. The second story was for the women in the rear and also included an additional bimah used by the hazzan on Shabbat and holidays. The building was decorated with many beautiful objects, many of them made of gold or silver. The Torah scrolls were kept in wooded cases overlaid with velvet or silver leaf and topped with silver or gold crowns.
We then walked outside toward the synagogue. We passed gardens that were funded by the JNF of Australia.
|Approaching the synagogue|
|Bench & mural in front of synagogue|
I was astounded by the beauty of the synagogue. It is hard to leave out photos as the sanctuary is so stunning.
|Women's section upstairs|
|Close up view of bimah with Nila talking to our group|
|Bimah on right with Ark in back|
|Ark and decorations on walls around it|
|Close up of ceiling|
|Bimah on second floor|
The pillars on the main floor are adorned with paintings of the 7 species.
|Pomegranates on pillar with ark in background|
|Matching pairs on side of ark|
|Memorial plaque--Etz Hayim--on same wall as ark but to the side|
|"Kee Metzion Tezeh Torah--stunning art work on front wall, elevated|
|1938 Jews of Cochin|
|1952 Jews in cochin|
|Jewish family in Cochin|
The center opened during Hanukkah, 1995 and a year later, on Dec. 28, 1996 thieves broke into the cultural center,, using a bulldozer to break down the wall of the center, causing huge damage to the display hall, and steal silver artifacts as well as the Torah Ark curtain (Parochet) and a standing oil lamp. The center was able to reopen the following summer. Then, about 5 years ago someone broke a window in the synagogue and stole crowns and other Torah adornments from up to 450 years ago. They were probably melted down for the silver. All are irreplaceable.
for more information on Cochin Jewry, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochin_Jews