Piece of Jewish history reduced to rubble in rain in Kerala

The 600-year-old Kadavumbhagam synagogue in Mattancherry that collapsed on Tuesday.

The 600-year-old Kadavumbhagam synagogue in Mattancherry that collapsed on Tuesday.  

Portion of Kadavumbhagam synagogue collapses

A piece of Jewish history was reduced to rubble when a portion of the over 600-year-old Kadavumbhagam synagogue in Mattancherry collapsed on Tuesday morning. Rain seeping in through the damaged roof had weakened the structure.

The synagogue was dilapidated since the 1990s when the carved wooden interiors and beams were moved to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“Nothing remains inside apart from a Hebrew inscription on a wall. The Torah and items of worship were taken with the Jews who migrated to Israel,” said Thoufeek Zakariya, who, along with Israeli artist Meydad Eliyahu, painted a mural on the front of the synagogue during the Kochi Biennale last year. The synagogue was built partially in 1400 AD, according to a record by I.S. Hallegua, a Jew from Fort Kochi who traced the history of the Jews in Ernakulam. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1539 after it fell into ruins.

Migration of Jews

With the migration of the Jews from Ernakulam to Israel in the 1950s, the synagogue fell into disrepair and was sold to a private individual.

The Kadavumbhagam synagogue was a place of worship for the Malabari Jews. Thaha Ibrahim, who researches Jewish history , says both Paradesi and Malabari Jews may have used this older synagogue for a brief period before the Paradesi synagogue was built around 450 years ago.

“Though it was declared a protected monument by the Kerala State Archaeology Department around three years ago, the department had not taken it over yet. The tiles on the roof have been falling apart for a few years now and water has been seeping in. Restoration work can begin only after it is taken over by the department,” said K.J. Sohan, convener of the Kerala chapter of INTACH.

As opposed to the Paradesi Jews who came from Europe later, Malabari Jews came to Muziris as traders from the Arabian peninsula and moved to Kochi after Muziris was destroyed in the 1341 floods, Mr. Sohan said.

Mortgaged with bank

“The Archaeology Department was prepared to take it over. But a bank claimed the property had been mortgaged and payment was due to the bank. We do not even know if the owners are still around. The matter will be resolved once payment is made to the bank,” said MLA K.J. Maxi.

Red-tapism and apathy towards the history of Malabari Jews have led to this situation, Elias Josephai, caretaker of the synagogue in Broadway, said.

Kadavumbhagum means by the side of the water. Both the Kadavumbhagum and Thekkumbhagum synagogues were sold to private parties when they fell into disuse, he said.

Of the 1,998 Malabari Jews in Kochi as per the 1948 census, most have moved out.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 8:34:06 AM |

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