"Preserving what's left of a once-Thriving Jewish Community in India" PBS NewsHour 8/4/2016
SUMMARY: The coastal Indian city of Cochin was once home to a thriving Jewish community; immigrants came for the spice trade and ended up settling there. But in 1955, the community largely vanished as its residents departed en masse to the newly founded state of Israel. Now, it's a struggle to preserve the structures and relics of Jewish heritage that remain.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO (NewsHour): In its nearly 900-year history, this synagogue had never seen an observance like this one. They came from four continents to this unlikely location, the coastal Indian city of Cochin, for the first Sabbath service in decades — and possibly the last one ever.
A once thriving Jewish Community of several thousand has mostly faded into a bittersweet history in the age of modern-day Israel, said Yeshoshua Sivan, a British-born Israeli.
YESHOSHUA SIVAN, Israeli tourist: I'm very sad to see communities disappear. On the other hand, I'm very happy to see that after all these years of dispersion the prophecy of the return to the land of Israel is in my time being — I'm part of it — is being realized. At least we see the synagogues, we see the streets, we see how life was once here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jewish life along India's Malabar Coast dates back to the ancient spice trade that drew explorers from across the sea.
They come now as tourists, but they came in ancient times to trade, and, in the case of some Jews, to settle — from Yemen, Mesopotamia, and later a few from Spain and Portugal after the Inquisition.
Away from tourist enclaves, there's a struggle to preserve what remains of the Jewish heritage here.
I'm standing in what was the women's section of a synagogue in Mala, about four or five miles in from the coastline. There was a thriving Jewish community here until 1955, when they decided, all of them, en masse, to emigrate to Israel. And they turned this building over to local municipal authorities.
C. KARMACHANDRAN, Historian: They were very good friends. They were very good neighbors. They were very good traders.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some left for religious fulfillment in the new Jewish homeland, says retired Professor C. Karmachandran, who heads a local historic preservation committee. Others thought Israel had better economic prospects, he adds, but none left in fear. Scholars agree that there's little history of anti-Semitism in India.
C. KARMACHANDRAN: They were given all the protection by the rulers as well as the local people to maintain their culture, their religion, their belief and their practices, and this in fact is the living symbol of that particular lofty tradition.