A few minutes after 6 pm on Sunday, two seniors of the Jewish community, Elias Josephhai and Josephhai Abraham, wearing skull caps, begin reading verses in Hebrew from the Torah at the Kadavumbhagom synagogue in Kochi. Then one by one the members light the wicks placed on a brass plate which hangs on a wall. They are celebrating the Hanukkah or The Festival of Lights, which commemorates the Holy Temple at Jerusalem.
In 2013, at the 800-year-old synagogue at Kochi, there are only fifteen men, women and children present. As is well known, the Jewish community is getting smaller and smaller.
The conversation is muted, the future looks bleak. For the function, ideally, there should be a rabbi. “But we have no one,” says Elias. “I end up doing the duties.” But since there has to be a minimum of 10 men present, for a holy service to take place that is also not possible.
A surprising presence is Klara Trenecseny, a documentary film-maker from Budapest in Hungary. A Jew herself, she is making a trailer to show television channels in Europe in order to get funding. “If I get the money, then I will come back and do a full-length documentary,” she says.
Meanwhile, Elias says that Israel is the fatherland, while India is the motherland. “Israel for me is the land of Jews,” he says. “I feel that strongly.” His brothers and sisters had migrated to Israel several years ago, but Elias stayed behind to look after his mother. “It was my fate,” he says.
In 1997, Elias went to Israel and has mixed emotions regarding the visit. “The showcase is fascinating, but the godown is bad,” he says. “That has been my experience. Israel is under the control of Europeans. Nobody cares for nobody. There are purely professional relationships, not like the close, emotional relationships which Indians have, with our emphasis on the family. Since I was born and brought up in India, the feeling and attachment to the family will always be there. So I will be more comfortable in Kochi, than in Israel.”