KOCHI: As the all-woman chenda team set out from the Mattanchery Paradesi Synagogue, people looked out from the nearby shops, houses and terraces. Behind the drummers was a motley group of Jews in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Some wore T-shirts and shorts, others jeans, a few had flip-flops while several had caps. Ellis Roby, in his mid-eighties, from Israel was seated in a wheelchair.
At the end of the road, three tour guides raised a banner. On it was a Star of David. Beneath it was written two lines in Hebrew. The first said: ‘Welcome to Kochi’ followed by ‘We Love Israel’. And under it was the symbol of Hanukkah candle holder. As one guide waved the Israeli flag, the other said, “We want to show our appreciation of the Jews.”
So did the Kerala Handicraft Dealers and Manufacturers Welfare Association, Kashmiri Handicrafts Association and local people. The Jews had come for the 450th anniversary of the Mattancherry Paradesi Synagogue. And the locals decided to honour them.
Junaid Sulaiman, the secretary of the Kerala Handicrafts Association, said: “We are grateful to the Jews because thanks to the presence of the synagogue, we are on the world map. And for decades we’ve been having a steady business as a lot of Jews come from all over the world to pray at the synagogue.”
Leading hotelier Jose Dominic said, “Many of the Jews left in their teens and now they are all senior citizens. The relevance of this celebration is that there will probably not be another celebration like this.”
At the public meeting, in the Ginger House Restaurant, the Los-Angeles based David Hallegua said, “When I get ready to leave this world I know where my soul is going to be. It is going to be by the fishing nets in Fort Kochi, where I grew up as a little boy, spending time with my grandparents, waking up in the morning, hearing a ship’s siren, and hearing the waves hit the banks and the sound of seagulls flying.”
Essie Sassoon, who lives in Israel, said, “The Jews have been driven out from every other country, but India accepted us. We were allowed to live peacefully and practise our religion. This was very important for us. The authorities would call us and ask when was the date of our Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur festivals so that they could avoid holding public examinations on those days. Where can you find such a caring relationship anywhere in the world?”
And then up stepped Steve Hertzman, who brought the house down, when he said, “Sometimes I feel like a colonial plunderer because I managed to pluck one of the most valuable gems in Jew Town: My wife Linda.”
There were felicitations from K V Thomas, MP, George Fernandes, MLA, K J Sohan, former Mayor of the Kochi Corporation and other dignitaries. The function concluded with the singing of the Israeli national anthem followed by a powerful rendition by the Jews of the Indian national anthem.
At its conclusion, many Jews raised their hands to the sky. As Essie said, “You can take a Jew out of India but you cannot take India out of a Jew.”