Retracing the rich but forgotten history of Malabari Jews

  In the early 1950s, with the formation of the free state, Israel witnessed a massive immigration of Jews from across the globe.

Published: 25th February 2019 09:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 26th February 2019 05:12 AM   |  A+A-

The calligraphy works of Meydad Eliyahu and Thoufeek Zakriya on the walls of Jew Town at Mattancherry

Express News Service

KOCHI:  In the early 1950s, with the formation of the free state, Israel witnessed a massive immigration of Jews from across the globe. Among them were 'Malabari Jews', a group from Kochi. 
Often sidelined due to their financial status back home, the mass exodus of the group wiped off from our collective memory their rich culture and heritage. While the lives of Pardesi Jews or the 'White Jews' were often documented, Malabari Jews and their traditions gradually faded into oblivion.  

That is, until now.Now, delving deep into the forgotten cultural heritage of Malabari Jews are artists Meydad Eliyahu, Thoufeek Zakriya and Tanya Abraham. The trio's work, a public art project, has found a canvas on the walls of Jew Town at Mattancherry.

Meydad, a descendant of Malabari Jews born in Israel and based in Jerusalem, and Dubai-based chef Thoufeek Zakriya have dealt with the tales of immigration and the loss of the unique multi-cultural dialogue that once characterised Mattancherry. Says Tanya, who curated the work: "We created calligraphy and paintings inspired by the motifs of parrots and crown that are part of the cultural expressions of the Malabari Jews. The paintings and verses have been showcased in areas where they lived, allowing the public to know their lives and culture.”

Meydad did massive research, which included interactions with the descendants of Malabari Jews in Israel and dissecting Jewish women's folk songs. Thoufeek, who hails from the area, shared the knowledge from his research work titled 'Cochin Jewish Cuisine, Culture and Tradition', which he completed with the help of the elders of the Cochin Jewish Community. The trio's work, 'Red Crown Green Parrot' has been included as collateral at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018.

The works start with Thekkumbhagam Synagogue at Jew Town Road, in front of Sarah Cohen's house. The calligraphy in Hebrew and Malayalam talks about the now-demolished synagogue, while the second one 'Moshe' has the image of Meydad's great grandfather. The work depicts the sad situation of Malabari Jews during the migration wherein they were forced by the Israeli Government to leave some family members behind.

The third site at A B Salem has the image of Abraham Barak Salem, the 'Jewish Gandhi'. Next to it is the tomb of Nehemiah ben Abraham Mota, an important Kabbalist and poet of Malabari Jews. The work, which has proved to be crowd-puller since the Biennale's start, is an attempt to democratise art. 
“This is literally taking art to people. Here, there is a possibility for better interaction,” says Tanya.

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