Where are Cochin Jews today?
By Shalva Weil
Most Cochin Jews live today in Israel. They number some 8,000 (including spouses who "married in" to the community). In 2010, around 40 Jews remained in Kerala..
About 90% of the Malabar Jews who made aliyah in the 50's and 60's settled in moshavim (agricultural settlements - plural). Five moshavim: Nevatim, Taoz, Mesilat Zion, Aviezer and Kfar Yuval once had an entirely Cochini population and they are still the ethnic majority. Some Cochinis who originally settled on a moshav moved to towns or cities later on, such as Rishon Leztion, Jerusalem, Kiryat Yam and Kiryat Ata, near Haifa. The younger generation has scattered all over the country. The Paradesi Jews who immigrated to Israel originally settled in small groups in Binyamina and Petah Tikva.
Every moshav and every neighbourhood in a city with a substantial number of Cochin Jews has a synagogue, and the “Shingli” rites are still followed. The largest group is at Nevatim, which has a synagogue built in the Kerala style and has Torah scrolls from Cochin. Nearby is the Cochin Jewish Heritage Center. See the virtual tour here. Descriptions of the museum are available on Israel's MFA website and on tourism websites.
Some Cochin Jews who emigrated from the village of Chendamangalam live at Givat Koach, near the Ben-Gurion airport. In 2010, they built and inaugurated the Eliahu Motta Synagogue, named for the Yemenite kabbalist revered by Cochin Jews, as well as by members of other faiths in Cochin.
A large crowd of Cochin Jews from all over Israel came to Givat Koach for the inaugural event. Prof. Shalva Weil was the curator for the synagogue’s heritage room and poster exhibition.
The interior of the Kadavumbagam synagogue from Cochin was restored by the Israeli Museum in 1996, and it is now a prominent part of the display of world synagogues in the museum. The heichal (ark) and tebah (podium) were originally from the Parur synagogue in Kerala. The original heichal from the Kadavumbagam synagogue has been in use at a moshav in Israel, Nehalim, since the 1950s, in a congregation of orthodox German Jews.
A few Cochin Jews have migrated to the United States, but there is no significant concentration in any one geographic area.
Cochin Jews travel more between Israel and India than they did in the decades immediately after aliyah. Some take children to visit Kerala on trips to show them their roots in India. Others have returned to conduct business or purchase property in Kerala.
In February, 2006, the 1614 synagogue in Chennamangalam, restored by the Kerala Archaeological Survey in conjunction with the Kerala Department of Tourism, was inaugurated, and many Cochin Jews from Israel attended the event.
Cochin Jewish folksongs in Malayalam, traditionally sung by Jewish women in Kerala,are currently being revived in Israel. A CD entitled "Oh, Lovely Parrot" has been produced in an international collaborative project and is available through the Jewish Music Research Center of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and music websites.
Where are Cochin Jews Today?
Five Cochini settlements in Israel
Cochin Cultural Heritage Center in Nevatim
Cochin Jews in the news
Prayers at the Nehemiah Motta Synagogue, Givat Koach, August 2010.
Eli Avraham (left) and Joseph Oren (right) in front of Torah scrolls at the Givat Koach synagogue.
Cochin Synagogue Ark in Israel Museum