KOCHI: The erstwhile Jew town of Mattanchery, which boasts of the country’s oldest ‘Paradesi’ synagogue, on Friday saw another chapter in the Jewish settlers’ history drawing to a close. Sarah Cohen, the oldest member of the once sizeable Jewish community, passed away aged 96. According to Thoufeek Zakriya, who regarded Sarah as his Jewish ‘grandmother’, a window to the history of Kochi Jews has been closed forever. “I am a Muslim but she was my family. Me, Thaha ikka, Sarah aunty, Reema aunty, Gammy uncle and Isaac uncle used to gather for tea,” he said.
“Those gatherings witnessed passionate discussions on a variety of topics, including the history, festival and traditions of Kochi Jews. And the free exchange of ideas and thoughts stretched well into the night and the hours that passed were lost on us,” Thoufeek said. “Those days are gone. Neither those days nor the people will ever come back,” he said, reminiscing that Kadathala Pastel rustled up by Sarah aunty was the star attraction during the evening gatherings. Junaid Sulaiman, who was close to Sarah, said the end came at 1.10 pm. “Thaha who looks after her found her lying motionless in bed.
And the doctor, who examined her, said she might have suffered a cardiac arrest,” he said. “She was just four days shy of the 97th birthday which falls on September 4,” he said. “After the traders of Jew Town came to know of her passing, we gathered at her house and paid our respects. At 6 pm, David Hallegua lit the Sabbath lamp,” he said. However, the lamps will be doused once the sun sets and will be lit only at the time of her funeral which will take place on Sunday afternoon. According to him, Sarah’s mortal remains have been kept at the Fathima Hospital morgue.
“The funeral rituals are expected to be conducted by Rabbi Yonatan Goldschmidt,” he added. Sarah’s husband Jacob Cohen had died 21 years ago. The couple were childless. Sarah’s relatives, who had settled in Israel and Australia several years ago, might attend the funeral. As of now, there is no confirmations regarding their participation. However, officials from the Israel’s consulate in New Delhi will attend the funeral, said Junaid. Sarah had endeared herself to the Jewish community here.
She chose to remain in India even when her relatives migrated to other parts of the world. Until recently, she performed her daily prayers in Hebrew and regaled tourists with the history of the Jewish community and its contributions to Kerala society. On most days, she could be found seated by her shop window, looking out and chatting with visitors. The Jewish Kippah, produced out of satin and designed by Sarah many years ago, is the most popular souvenir in the shop. Thaha Ibrahim, Sarah’s caretaker, had been running the shop for several years now.