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Children of Israel

| Updated on: May 24, 2019

The first Jews arrived in Kochi in the 11th century. While a large section moved to Israel in the ’50s, others have lived on for generations in Kerala as Indian citizens

A periscopic look into the life and times of the Jews of Kerala as one compact whole reveals an extraordinary diasporic community whose forefathers trace their ethnic roots to King Solomon of Israel, the Sephardim of Iberia, and the Mizrahim of Persia and Babylonia. The chequered history of the Jewish diaspora in the context of the Malabar coast is traced back to Solomon’s reign. Arriving as traders during peaceful times, they chose to settle down on the lush green Kerala coast. Years later, beginning in the early 16th century, the second wave of Jews arrived as émigrés, following the Spanish and Portuguese inquisition, from the Iberian peninsula. At one point, the Cochin community of Jews was much larger than that in New York, with about 2,000 Jews and nine synagogues. The Cochin Jewish housewife, living in a land abundant with exotic spices, lush green fields, and bountiful coconut and fruit trees, infused her cooking with these flavourful ingredients. Cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, coconut and pepper played a tantalising role in her kitchen. Rice was a staple in Kerala, and being a kosher grain, it was perfect for Passover. In the 1950s, some families made the Aliyah, the epoch-making exodus from India to Israel, leaving behind idyllic seaside memories and a handful of loved ones who continue to live on in the island city of Kochi.

Text by KS Mathew and Yamini Nair; Photographs by Ajay Menon

Published on Jan 17, 2022

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