In Which A People Goes Away

It was with some trepidation that I typed the words “Jew Town” into my phone. That phrasing just feels dirty to me, as though it is painted with racism and discrimination, although I don’t think it is or was when the name was first applied.

And I was somehow surprised and validated when “Jew Town Road” popped up on the map, confirming that we were driving the right direction.

We spent today driving through the neighborhoods of Kochi, along the coast of Kerala, seeing this beautiful bustling town that sits on the shore of the Indian Ocean.

We visited the Cochin Club (the city name has a few different spellings), the members-only club standing on the verge of the beach.

As we explored the back patio, and I looked at plants I’ve only heard about, locals strode up and down the boardwalk.

The club, founded in 1914, has never had a liquor license, so instead we sat under the trees, enjoying a lime-ade made fresh for us by the bartender.

As we continued our tour, we found the storied, ancient Jewish neighborhood. Kerala has a long multicultural history with Hindus living together with Muslims, Christians, and Jews for centuries. The Jews, in some stories, came here in the time of Solomon, and have been here for over 2,000 years. In other stories they came in the 11th and 16th centuries.

The city at one time had a vibrant Jewish community with its own traditions. But in the 50’s the community began to move to Israel, and the numbers have been dwindling since.

At the synagogue, we were told that only two Jews remain in the community. Still the lamp remains lit, and the Sabbath is celebrated, with visitors to the town participating.

There is something sad about the loss of these local traditions, and the visit leaves me a bit melancholy.

I understand why these isolated micro-communities are going away, but I think that more is lost than just the heritage and culture that they represent. By all accounts this was a place in which a multicultural tapestry has thrived, and at least one thread in that tapestry is going away. I don’t see how all the other threads can’t help but grow a little weaker as a result.

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