KOCHI: The ParadesiSynagogue, a monument of the financial prowess of Jewish traders, was also a witness to the sufferings of the Jews in Kerala during the reign of the Portuguese.
Not much documentary evidence are available on the history of Jews in Kerala. Adriaan Moens, the Dutch governor for Malabar, wrote that they might have come here with the fleet of King Solomon or when the 10 tribes were captured by Salamanasser.
Moens also reflects upon the claims of local Jewish tradition which says that about 1,000 people arrived here a few years after the destruction of the second temple at Jerusalem 70 years after the birth of Christ. There is one more assumption that they arrived here when Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman Emperor Aelius Hadrian. Whenever Jews were expelled from Europe, during the middle ages, they found refuge in Kochi. The first batch from Spain reached Kochi in 1492, followed by a second batch in 1514.
When Vasco da Gama reached Malabar in 1498, he noticed the Jewish community in Cranganore (Kodungallur). The Portuguese, intolerant to Jews, expelled them from Kodungallur in 1565. The Jewish community built the Jew Town in Kochi and occupied it in 1567 and they also built the ‘Paradesi’ Synagogue in 1568.
According to ‘Kerala and Her Jews’, a compilation of a lecture by SS Koder and a master’s dissertation by Fiona Hallegua, “The 160 years of the Portuguese occupation of Cochin were the darkest period in the history of the Jews of Malabar… The Portuguese not only completed the destruction of the shattered Jewish principality in Cranganore but also ransacked Jew town in Cochin.” Hence, when the Dutch came, the Jewish population supported them and they regained their glory during the 132 years of Dutch rule. The British rule was also relatively peaceful.
The synagogue had to be witness to the ‘Aliyahs’ (exodus to Israel) to the newlyformed State of Israel, first during 1950-54 and second during 1970, bringing down the number of ‘white’ Jews in Kochi to barely a handful.