We don’t re­pos­sess the shul, we just de­stroy it

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY LAWRENCE JOFFE

DOWN THE road from more fa­mous, 16th cen­tury Pa­radesi Sy­n­a­gogue of Cochin, south-west In­dia, stands a di­lap­i­dated yet even older house of wor­ship.

The Ka­davumb­hagom Sy­n­a­gogue was founded in 1551 and once housed a Tal­mud To­rah and an adult yeshivah. But it was sold off when most con­gre­gants em­i­grated to Is­rael decades ago.

At first, the new land­lord stored dis­tinctly un-kosher prawns there; to­day it is a cat­tle shed.

Last month, dis­grun­tled loan sharks de­stroyed part of the build­ing af­ter Ka­davumb­hagom’s cur­rent owner, known as Regina, fell into debt.

“Pri­vate per­sons have carted away what­ever was in­side”, a lo­cal res­i­dent told the In­dian news­pa­per, The Hindu. “It’s an im­por­tant mon­u­ment. Shouldn’t the govern­ment pro­tect this sy­n­a­gogue?”

Alarmed by t hi s news, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ker­ala Jews signed a pe­ti­tion to pro­tect the site and a Jewish cemetery in nearby Kathrika­davu. The direc­tor of Ker­ala’s archaeology de­part­ment re­sponded by ap­proach­ing lo­cal po­lice who, in turn, asked the govern­ment to take over the build­ing. But who will pay to re­store it?

Some help has now ar­rived from an un­ex­pected out­side source. STMEGI, a char­ity for Azer­bai­jani Moun­tain Jews, claimed that they have pushed In­dian au­thor­i­ties to list the two sites for preser­va­tion un­der the Cul­ture Min­istry’s Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia. The process be­gan last month.

Lo­cal scholar Aharon Daniel said that, ac­cord­ing to folk­lore, Jews first ar­rived in south-west In­dia dur­ing the time of King Solomon. Oth­ers came with Greek and Arab traders, and were granted the princely lo­cal sta­tus of Meyuhas­sim (“priv­i­leged” in He­brew), he said. By the 16th cen­tury, “for­eign” or “Pa­radesi” Jews alighted on the Mal­abar Coast from Egypt, Iraq and even Ger­many. Col­lo­qui­ally named “White Jews”, they con­trasted with freed slaves who con­verted to Ju­daism. At their peak in the 1940s, Cochin’s Jews num­bered 3,000. To­day, some 8,000 live in Is­rael while just 70 re­main in

In­dia.

PHOTO: VIPIN CHAN­DRAN

Ka­davumb­hagom shul: un­der threat

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