Photo Credit: Jewish Encyclopedia via Wikimedia
Cochin Jews

Sarah Cohen, 96, the oldest member of the Cochin Jewish community, passed away last Friday, only six days short of her 97th birthday.

The doctor who examined her told the New India Express that she likely suffered cardiac arrest, adding (sic) “After the traders of Jew Town came to know of her passing, we gathered at her house and paid our respects. At 6 PM, David Hallegua lit the Sabbath lamp.”


Sarah’s funeral took place on Sunday afternoon, conducted by Rabbi Yonatan Goldschmidt.

Sarah Cohen / Courtesy

Sarah’s husband, Jacob Cohen, passed away in 1998. The couple was childless. Sarah’s relatives settled in Israel and Australia several years ago, and Sarah’s sister’s son, who flew from Israel to take part in his aunt’s funeral, was the only family member present at the ceremony. According to India Today, officials from the Israeli consulate in New Delhi attended the funeral.

According to New India Express, Sarah prayed every day in Hebrew, and “regaled tourists with the history of the Jewish community.”

On most days, she could be found seated by her souvenir shop window, looking out and chatting with visitors. Her Muslim caretaker, Thaha Ibrahim, ran the shop for her.

From Wikipedia: The Cochin Jews settled in the Kingdom of Cochin in South India, now part of the state of Kerala as early as the 12th century. The Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela wrote: “…throughout the island, including all the towns thereof, live several thousand Israelites. The inhabitants are all black, and the Jews also. The latter are good and benevolent. They know the law of Moses and the prophets, and to a small extent the Talmud and Halacha.”

These people later became known as the Malabari Jews. They built synagogues in Kerala beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries, and developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of the Malayalam language.

In the 16th century, following their 1492 expulsion from Spain, a few families of Sephardi Jews made their way to Cochin. They became known as Paradesi (foreign) Jews. They maintained some trade connections to Europe, and spoke Ladino. They also learned Judeo-Malayalam from the Malabar Jews.

The two communities retained their ethnic and cultural distinctions. Then, in the late 19th century, a few Arabic-speaking Jews, known as the Baghdadi, joined the Paradesi community.

Most of the Malabar Jews made Aliyah in the mid-1950s, while most of the Parades Jews migrated to Australia and other Commonwealth countries.

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