Warden of the Jewish Synagogue in Mattancherry, Kerala, Hallegua was noted for his generosity and helping nature.
Below the nameboard S.H. Hallegua outside a household on Mattancherry’s Jew Street hangs a request not to disturb its occupant between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. On Thursday afternoon, some thoughtful visitor upturned that request board, for the person, who was fighting cancer, had passed away in the morning.
Samuel Hallegua, a tall leader of the Jewish community in Mattancherry and warden of the Cochin Jewish Synagogue, died at a private hospital in west Kochi aged 78.
Wife Queenie was near him when the end came. Mr. Hallegua had been suffering from cancer-related ailments for long. He was admitted to the hospital five days back. His son David, a doctor in the U.S, had flown down to the city on Wednesday considering the deteriorating health of his father. Daughter Fiona Amiel was away in the U.S. where she was married off.
A known scholar and historian in Jewish history, Mr. Hallegua was much sought after for expert comments on community affairs. He was always in the forefront when the community needed him, his long-time acquaintances recollected. As the warden of the Jewish Synagogue he led the prayers on Sabbath during Fridays.
When the marriage of Solomon, son of Josephai Abraham of the Thekkumbhagam congregation of the dwindling Cochin Jewish community (called by Israelis as Cochinis) to Susan of the Bene Israel (sons of Israel) Jewish community in Mumbai, was solemnised at the Synagogue in Mattancherry -- the first Jewish wedding in the old town in 21 long years -- it was Mr. Hallegua who read out the seven blessings in Hebrew in the absence of a rabbi (Jewish priest).
The do-not-disturb board was put up when persistent flow of visitors, including media persons, deprived him of the much needed rest in his final few months. “He was not his usual self in the last few months and looked very much tired,” said Thaha, who recollected Mr. Hallegua’ s generosity towards him with great sorrow.
Thaha recollected how Mr. Hallegua intervened when the police restricted his roadside trade. Sarah, a community member and who runs the shop Sarah’s Hand Embroidery across Mr. Hallegua’s house, was shattered at his demise. A grief-stricken Sarah recollected how Mr. Hallegua always took the initiative in community affairs.
Besides his in-depth knowledge in community affairs, he was a gold medallist in Actuary from the Presidency College in Madras, Praveen, another acquaintance, said. With the death of Mr. Hallegua, the number of Jewish members in the old Jewish town of Mattancherry has been reduced to just ten. Of this only two were below the age of 50 years, while the rest were aged above 70, he said.
Mr. Praveen remembered how fiercely Mr. Hallegua felt for Kerala. “He was as much a Malayali as he was Jewish,” he said. The body was to be laid to rest at the Synagogue in the evening.