Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Publication: New Book on Jews of Kerala (India)

Publication: New Book on Jews of Kerala (India)

(ISJM) Just as ISJM begins a new project move forward the conservation of the historic synagogue of Parur, Kerala (India), a new book has been published by British-Indian journalist Edna Fernandes about this past, present and future of the very small community of Jews that still calls Kerala home.

The Last Jews of Kerala by Edna Fernandes (Penguin Books India, 205 pp, 450 Rps) [ISBN 978-0670081479] is unique in that it is directed at an Indian audience as well as an international one.

A recent review in the Bangkok Post says that:

Fernandes first came across the Jews of Cochin on her first visit to Kerala in 2002, and went back there in 2006 to see and feel how the two sides lived. After interviewing people there and in Israel, at times hearing unsolicited confessions, and consulting archives and diaries, she has produced a book that brings alive the predicament of a diaspora weighed down by tradition and prejudice.

In 12 chapters, she relates the history, culture and beliefs of two groups that stayed apart for too long, although physically they lived only 40 minutes apart. The pardesi (foreign, or white) Jews arrived later than the Malabar (black) Jews, but used the surrounding Hindu caste system as a model for claiming greater privileges.

She weaves into the book the findings of well-known authorities - including Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz, Nathan Katz, Ellen S. Goldberg and David Mandelbaum. But apparently influential on the thrust of her story is Rabbi Rabinowitz's article for the Far East Mission in 1952. The rabbi noted that "irrational prejudices take precedence over law and logic and ethics" among Jews in Cochin

Click here for the full review.

There have been many books and articles written about the Jews of Kerela. There seems nothing like a good "Last Jews of..." story to attract the pack journalists. To mind mind the best book on the topic remains

The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish Identity in Hindu India by Nathan Katz and Ellen Goldberg (University of South Carolina Press, 1993).

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