The district administration here has asked an Israeli couple to exit from the country within 15 days for violating visa regulations. Frenzied media coverage over the past few days had put a ‘spying' tag on the Jewish rabbi and his wife, who have lived in Kochi for close to two years.
The District Collector had on Monday served notice on them, living in a rented house in Fort Kochi. That order was on the recommendation of the Foreigners' Registration Office, which in turn had received a police report unfavourable to the couple. “The authorities had received certain intelligence inputs against the two Israeli citizens,” an official said. Shneor Zalman and Yaffa Shenoi arrived in India on multiple-entry visas in March 2010 and had their visas renewed after a year. They initially lived in the Mattancherry area, known for its centuries-old Jew Town and synagogue which still attracts Israeli and other visitors in large numbers.
The couple had reportedly violated visa rules by taking part in activities that foreign residents were not supposed to have associated with.
Israel's ynetnews.com, a news portal, on Wednesday quoted Yaffa Shenoi as saying that she and her husband had not been arrested or interrogated. “Local police spoke to us a few times and asked that we do not hold large gatherings in the house,” the website quoted her as saying. She referred to the holding of “Shabbat dinners with Israelis and local Jews” in the house, which had been taken on a rent of $1,000 (about Rs. 48,500) a month. “This is a large house that is designated for Chabad activities,” she added. (A Chabad House, according to chabad.org, “will generally host classes, lectures, and workshops on Jewish topics; religious services; Shabbat meals; and special events as needed in that community.” There are some 3,600 Chabad institutions in about 70 countries.)
Since the 2008 Mumbai bomb attacks in which six Jews were killed when the Chabad House there was attacked, police and intelligence officials have reportedly been keeping an eye on the synagogue and the tiny Jewish community here.
Kochi has had an ancient record of having welcomed Jews fleeing adversity elsewhere in the world to settle there, although the community has in recent times dwindled.