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Two thousand years ago, trade routes and the fall of Jerusalem took Jewish settlers seeking sanctuary across Europe and Asia. One little-known group settled in Kerala, in tropical southwestern India. Eventually numbering in the thousands, with eight synagogues, they prospered. Some came to possess vast estates and plantations, and many enjoyed economic privilege and politi Two thousand years ago, trade routes and the fall of Jerusalem took Jewish settlers seeking sanctuary across Europe and Asia. One little-known group settled in Kerala, in tropical southwestern India. Eventually numbering in the thousands, with eight synagogues, they prospered. Some came to possess vast estates and plantations, and many enjoyed economic privilege and political influence. Their comfortable lives, however, were haunted by a feud between the Black Jews of Ernakulam and the White Jews of Mattancherry. Separated by a narrow stretch of swamp and the color of their skin, they locked in a rancorous feud for centuries, divided by racism and claims and counterclaims over who arrived first in their adopted land. Today, this once-illustrious people is in its dying days. Centuries of interbreeding and a latter-day Exodus from Kerala after Israel's creation in 1948 have shrunk the population. The Black and White Jews combined now number less than fifty, and only one synagogue remains. On the threshold of extinction, the two remaining Jewish communities of Kerala have come to realize that their destiny, and their undoing, is the same. The Last Jews of Kerala narrates the rise and fall of the Black Jews and the White Jews over the centuries and within the context of the grand history of the Jewish people. It is the story of the twilight days of a people whose community will, within the next generation, cease to exist. Yet it is also a rich tale of weddings and funerals, of loyalty to family and fierce individualism, of desperation and hope.


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Two thousand years ago, trade routes and the fall of Jerusalem took Jewish settlers seeking sanctuary across Europe and Asia. One little-known group settled in Kerala, in tropical southwestern India. Eventually numbering in the thousands, with eight synagogues, they prospered. Some came to possess vast estates and plantations, and many enjoyed economic privilege and politi Two thousand years ago, trade routes and the fall of Jerusalem took Jewish settlers seeking sanctuary across Europe and Asia. One little-known group settled in Kerala, in tropical southwestern India. Eventually numbering in the thousands, with eight synagogues, they prospered. Some came to possess vast estates and plantations, and many enjoyed economic privilege and political influence. Their comfortable lives, however, were haunted by a feud between the Black Jews of Ernakulam and the White Jews of Mattancherry. Separated by a narrow stretch of swamp and the color of their skin, they locked in a rancorous feud for centuries, divided by racism and claims and counterclaims over who arrived first in their adopted land. Today, this once-illustrious people is in its dying days. Centuries of interbreeding and a latter-day Exodus from Kerala after Israel's creation in 1948 have shrunk the population. The Black and White Jews combined now number less than fifty, and only one synagogue remains. On the threshold of extinction, the two remaining Jewish communities of Kerala have come to realize that their destiny, and their undoing, is the same. The Last Jews of Kerala narrates the rise and fall of the Black Jews and the White Jews over the centuries and within the context of the grand history of the Jewish people. It is the story of the twilight days of a people whose community will, within the next generation, cease to exist. Yet it is also a rich tale of weddings and funerals, of loyalty to family and fierce individualism, of desperation and hope.

30 review for The Last Jews of Kerala: The 2,000 Year History of India's Forgotten Jewish Community

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X is getting covered in Soufriere ash

    I have a small connection to this book. My father was engaged to an Indian Jewish woman whose father was the only importer of Tampax into that country! (But he married my mother instead). The premise of the book is that of the several Jewish communities in India, some of which have been there since the time of King Solomon and are documented in the bible, and who have lived entirely peacefully and as equal Indian citizens for thousands of years, are now disappearing because of the racism by the I have a small connection to this book. My father was engaged to an Indian Jewish woman whose father was the only importer of Tampax into that country! (But he married my mother instead). The premise of the book is that of the several Jewish communities in India, some of which have been there since the time of King Solomon and are documented in the bible, and who have lived entirely peacefully and as equal Indian citizens for thousands of years, are now disappearing because of the racism by the white Jews towards the older community of black jews in two particular communities - the Jews who live in the state of Kerala. This part of the book is very interesting. The history of Haile Selassie's visit, the story of the 'kingship' and lands awarded to the Jews, the building of the town by a Rajah, where equidistant from his central palace there were holy buildings of the four religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism and the peace with which all four religions coexisted from time immemorial to this day. Apart, that is, from the hiccup when the Portuguese came and conquered Goa after the Inquisition and foisted their particular anti-semitism on the local Jews (including the ones who had fled from the Inquisition) and then the Moors, whose brand of Islam was not the same as the Indian one, and they too were anti-semitic. The main part of the book concerns the European Jews who fled the Inquisition and settled in India and then rewrote history declaring themselves the original community and that their whiteness proved their religious purity. Religious purity to Hindu India is the be-all and end-all of mortal and immortal life. These Jews tried for five centuries to get rabbis from different countries to lend their stance legitimacy, but failed but still persisted with their devise and revisionist stance. This is all very interesting. But the whole premise fails because the Jews in these communities are dying and leaving their synagogues as tourist attractions because of the migration to Israel and also by migration to the cities by the young, not for any other reason. It happened in my own community - growing up in the South Wales valleys there were many tiny communities but one by one they have all gone or are dying as the children, myself included, left for the metropolises and Israel. Only the cities have vibrant communities now, in Wales and in India. The last part of the book concerns the success or otherwise of some of the Kerali Jews who emigrated to Israel. It wasn't well-written, the stories were recited in a somewhat maudlin' fashion and there were factual errors (again!) about the religion. A better editor could have helped Fernandez to write a really cracking book and so perhaps its more the fault of the publishing house than of the author that the book was so flawed. Great cover though, and great cover art is always a plus to me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve Cran

    This is my second time reading this book. Some may find it a bit opinionated others will love the history that is relayed to the reader in this book. Big question here is what causes a community or society to fold. The author points to community dissension and an apartheid type apparatus operating in the Cochini Jewish community. There are two groups of Jews in Kerala, one is a darker skinned almost Indian looking Jew and another one which hail form Europe is of lighter complexion. The lighter c This is my second time reading this book. Some may find it a bit opinionated others will love the history that is relayed to the reader in this book. Big question here is what causes a community or society to fold. The author points to community dissension and an apartheid type apparatus operating in the Cochini Jewish community. There are two groups of Jews in Kerala, one is a darker skinned almost Indian looking Jew and another one which hail form Europe is of lighter complexion. The lighter complected Jews find themselves feeling superior to the other Jews and have excluded them from participating in the synagogue, will not eat from their restaurants and intermarriage between the two groups is absolutely forbidden. Jewish racism against other Jews is not something new. White Jews or European Jews have been been constantly discriminating against darker Jews since god knows how long.For poignant example one need look at how the Yemenite Jews were treated or the Moroccan Jews were treated. The Israeli Government had the audacity to kidnap 5,000 Yemenite babies and sell them abroad. Moroccan Jews were subjected to radiological experiments. Look up "Ringworm children" on the internet. The Bene Israel Jews have been at many times called "non Jews"despite several thousands of years of practice. The racism goes on. Jews first came to India in the time of King Solomon. Traders settled there and took on Indians wives and had children with them . This was the nucleus of one of the Indian Jewish communities. This community would later be supplemented by refugees from the Babylonian Exile an the Roman exile in 70 CE. The Paradesi Jews from Spain arrived during the inquisition. Later on they would proclaim themselves the original community and would look down upon their darker brethren . Joseph Rabban who both Jews claim descent from was sort of like a Jewish governor. He helped one on the Rajas in battle and was given control over several villages. The copper tablet are held in a Paradesi synagogue. The darker Jews claim it was stolen from them. This is a major sticking point between the two communities. Barriers started to break down during the Ghandi years when Avo Salem turned down a lucrative career in politics and fought a battle on behalf of his brethren. Against the Paradesi. He started slowly to enter the synagogue little bit by little bit until his community gain full recognition and were given a place. Avo's sons Balfour and Gamy would also marry Paradesi women. The women were ostracized to be sure. Some fought back really hard while others just went with the flow. Edna Flores visited this community while she was pregnant with her child. The community was dwindling in India and was in it's last days. But in Israel those that went there in most cases thrived. They were building profitable businesses in the Negev desert. One guy name Abraham did want to move back to India as the spiritual life in Israel was some what lacking.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This book tells the story of a disappearing Jewish community in southern, tropical India, with sensitivity and attention to different historical narratives. The last chapter is also an interesting glimpse into the different experiences of Jews living in Israel, and the conflict between religious homeland v.s. India as home, as well as religious coexistence v.s. conflict. I enjoyed this book, which serves as a reminder of the complexities of religious and cultural diversity in different parts of This book tells the story of a disappearing Jewish community in southern, tropical India, with sensitivity and attention to different historical narratives. The last chapter is also an interesting glimpse into the different experiences of Jews living in Israel, and the conflict between religious homeland v.s. India as home, as well as religious coexistence v.s. conflict. I enjoyed this book, which serves as a reminder of the complexities of religious and cultural diversity in different parts of the world, as well as the surprising connections you can find between places and people. I will definitely try to visit Kerala.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Becky Mears

    Interesting subject but not brilliantly written

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sajith Kumar

    Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, but it is also one which is persecuted the most. Without sounding anti-Semitic, a plausible reason for this prejudice is the fierce religious zeal of many of its adherents and the belief that they are the only chosen people of god. With a history stretching to the time of Pharaohs, the Jews suffered at the hands of every bigot, every dictator and every psychotic ruler. The Holocaust, in which nearly six million Jews were exterminated in Europe duri Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, but it is also one which is persecuted the most. Without sounding anti-Semitic, a plausible reason for this prejudice is the fierce religious zeal of many of its adherents and the belief that they are the only chosen people of god. With a history stretching to the time of Pharaohs, the Jews suffered at the hands of every bigot, every dictator and every psychotic ruler. The Holocaust, in which nearly six million Jews were exterminated in Europe during the Second World War is very recent episode, when compared to the long Jewish history on earth. There was only one place in the globe where they were not discriminated against, and in fact was encouraged to stay and prosper. India is the only country where the Jews were welcomed and absorbed into its multi-pointed society. Kerala is a small coastal state in the south-western periphery of India, where Jewish presence is attested even before Christ. After a prosperous life spanning three millennia, the society decided to transplant themselves to the desert soil of the new state of Israel when it was formed in 1948. This book tells the sad story of the Jews remaining in Kerala, who are members of a society whose doom is sure to materialize in the near future. There are not sufficient men and women of marriageable age and the lack of partners drive many youngsters to emigrate to Israel. The aged have decided to stay put in their homeland for the duration of their lives. Among a slew of people intent on occupying their possessions once the last one of them dies, this set of octogenarians live on peacefully in Cochin. It also tells the story of the strife and discrimination within the Jewish community itself, between Whites and Blacks. It ends with a survey on the lives of people who had taken domicile in Israel and how they feel now, after a few decades in the land where milk and honey flow. Edna Fernandes is a British writer who was born in Nairobi and grew up in London. A former foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and political correspondent for Reuters in London, her articles have been reproduced in newspapers around the world. There were many streams of Jewish immigration to Kerala. Trade relations existed between Malabar coast and ancient Palestine under king Solomon. Descendants of such traders lived in Kerala for a long time. Their habitat was Cranganore (present-day Kodungallur) on the western coast in medieval times. Cranganore’s provenance as a major port suffered a devastating blow in 1341, when the great monsoon floods silted up the harbour and the course of the Periyar river altered to the south. Cochin (present-day Kochi) shot up in reputation as a natural harbour after this event. The Jews migrated south to Kochi, Chennamangalam and Parur. The community reveres an ancient patriarch named Joseph Rabban, who is considered the founding father of the community in Kerala. The book claims that Rabban was acknowledged to be the king of Anjuvannam village according to a copper plate granted by king Bhaskara Ravi Varma, now stored in the Mattanchery Synagogue. This is alluded to be the Jewish kingdom of Shingly. However, Anjuvannam is a trade guild as can be seen from other historical texts catering to this period and its leadership implies only that the Jewish patriarch was a merchant leader. A great exodus from Palestine took place after 70 CE, when the second temple at Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman troops as a consequence of crushing a Jewish uprising. The author claims that a section of the Jews migrated also during the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar. One of man’s basic instincts seems to discriminate among his brethren. How can such an unhealthy custom develop otherwise among the Jews of Kerala, who differentiated into two groups: the white-skinned ones called Paradesi (foreigner) and the blacks being called Malabari (Keralites). Such discrimination was against the basic tenets of Judaism, scrupulous though the Whites were, in observing rituals ordained by custom. Another outrageous fact was that the Whites arrived in Cochin only in the 16th century CE to escape the persecution in Europe ordained by the Inquisition. These were fair skinned – being Europeans – and usurped the legacy of their native born co-religionists whose skin colour and physique was exactly matching with other Keralites, since the community was living in Kerala for three millennia, and they mingled with the indigenous population. White Jews claimed the legacy of Joseph Rabban, and their clever ploys could hoodwink the Raja of Cochin and imperial administration by making false claims that the blacks were the descendants of slaves attached to merchant vessels which plied in the Arabian sea. They set in motion a form of apartheid that put the South African variety to shame. And this was when the Jewish community was widely persecuted everywhere! Intermarriage between the two communities was strictly prohibited. The Black Jews were not even allowed to pray in the main hall of the Mattanchery Synagogue, which was under the Whites’ effective control. While the Paradesis sat on benches, the Malabaris were relegated to an anteroom, where they were allowed to sit on the floor and pray! Rebellion flared up among the oppressed, under the leadership of Abraham Barak Salem, also called ‘Jewish Gandhi’ as he was a lawyer and worked in the Congress party, having close ties with Gandhi and Nehru, which prompted him to adopt non-violent passive resistance to bring about the downfall of apartheid by one Jewish community against another. When Israel was formed in 1948, it allowed brotherhood of Jews of all races, without insisting on skin tone as a qualifying parameter. This definitely ended the practice of segregation even though Fernandes narrates the story of a couple who married across the communities and had to face ostracism from their white neighbours. Kerala Jews had adopted many of the customs prevalent in their adopted homeland like wearing dhotis, use of Malayalam language, Kerala cuisine and even the use of tali, a piece of gold locket tied by the groom around his bride’s neck as a marriage ritual. The author hints that along with all these, the communities might have imbibed the spirit of untouchability which was all pervading in Hinduism, where people with pale complexion were regarded as upper-castes having superior privileges. The book depends heavily on other books on Kerala Jewry in its narrative. True to the vocation of the author, it demonstrates narration skills inalienable to a journalist, rather than displaying profound analytical insight of a thinker. Even though an Indian, the author exhibits typical characteristics of foreign authors when describing the Indian countryside and society. Surprisingly for the readers stationed in Kerala, the author’s development of scenic background of events is not honest enough. It is as if she had prepared the description beforehand. The book describes the unloading of cargo from the backs of mules in Ernakulam market (pitiful mules bent low beneath their parcels like put-upon husbands, p.72). Considering the fact that Fernandes’ visit to the city was in 2006, this account is simply a lie, and incorporated to satisfy somebody’s mental picture of how an Indian city should look like, even in the 21st century. Draught animals are not being used in Ernakulam for nearly five decades now. Similar is the case of the sentry at Mattanchery police station near the synagogue, who is said to be dozing off at 11 am on most days. Anyone who is familiar with the area knows that the station is a rather busy one, and there is no question of an officer sleeping in daytime in broad public view. This is another case of stereo typifying Indian ideas. The entire narrative in the book is worn out, without rising to the level of evoking feelings in readers’ minds. The custodians of the synagogue even deny permission to her to make an interview! Anyway, her visit to Israel to meet the Cochin Jews migrated there, is the only saving grace of the work. Nevatim settlement is the biggest cluster of Kerala Jews, but many are stationed in Jerusalem also. The author successfully elicits emotions of both kinds in the immigrants. All of them moved to the Jewish homeland sharing a lofty, though partisan ideal of setting up a theocratic state there. Subtle discrimination on the basis of skin colour is prevalent there too, but Kerala’s Jews know how to manage it effectively. Many of them are however disillusioned with the model of a secular society, whereas almost all of the Cochin Jews were very devoted to their faith. Added to that is the security concerns associated with everyday life in Israel. The Jews were never discriminated against in Kerala, even though we read about a few occasions in which they were the aggressors. A part of the emigrants wants to come back to India, and their experience on reaching Indian soil is touching – “Even though it’s my holy land, I was happy to be coming home. You know that smell when you step off the plane in India? That dirty diesel smell! I can’t tell you how happy I was to breathe my country into my lungs. I’m Jewish, but I’m also Indian” (p.90). The book is recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Adam Krause

    Poorly written, poorly copy edited; as story research it was fluffy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Razeen Muhammed rafi

    The last Jew of Kerala discuss regarding present and past of Jewish history of Kerala. History of Jew in kerala dates back from King Solomon. Raw materials for Temple Mount was Procured from Cranganore (Kodungalor) which was famous for port Muzaris. These Jews who come during era of King Solomon and married locals and settled in Kerala as merchants where known as Black Jews or Malabari jews.Following expulsion from Iberia in 1492 Jews from Portugese and Spain migrated to Cochin and settled as Pa The last Jew of Kerala discuss regarding present and past of Jewish history of Kerala. History of Jew in kerala dates back from King Solomon. Raw materials for Temple Mount was Procured from Cranganore (Kodungalor) which was famous for port Muzaris. These Jews who come during era of King Solomon and married locals and settled in Kerala as merchants where known as Black Jews or Malabari jews.Following expulsion from Iberia in 1492 Jews from Portugese and Spain migrated to Cochin and settled as Paradesi Jews (Foreign jews). There was Appartied between these community and they followed strict doctrine. They even didn't marry from other communities which made the population to shrink. After Indian Independence and formation of Israel. These communities moved back to Israel leaving some people only in Kerala.Similiar to Operation Magic Carpet in Yemen, Kerala Jews also immigrated to Israel which made Jews in Kerala less than 1000 peoples.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John Benson

    This is an interesting book about two small Jewish remnant communities who live in Cochin, Kerala, India but are divided by their supposed racial differences. The communities have lived in India since Biblical times but the Black Jews and the White Jews have less than 100 members each. We find out the history of the communities, personalities in the communities and how this animosity started despite no prejudice against them from the non-Jewish Indian population. After bringing out the personali This is an interesting book about two small Jewish remnant communities who live in Cochin, Kerala, India but are divided by their supposed racial differences. The communities have lived in India since Biblical times but the Black Jews and the White Jews have less than 100 members each. We find out the history of the communities, personalities in the communities and how this animosity started despite no prejudice against them from the non-Jewish Indian population. After bringing out the personalities and the history, she finishes the book in Israel where the majority of the Kerala Jewish population has migrated. There she finds that while they feel at home religiously in Israel, many long to return to their beautiful former homes in Kerala. The story is told in an easy and relaxed style, which I enjoyed, but many may find less scholarly.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karen Flatley

    An opinion about a Jewish community written by a non-Jew who chose to visit the community on it’s most solemn holy day. After knocking on doors and windows and calling repeatedly as the Jews kept their holy day traditions, the temple president finally saw her and was curt with her. I wondered how a person with such little knowledge and empathy for f her subject could write a fair description. And she didn’t.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    A disappointing mediocrity of a book. Poor writing and shallow research result in a bland and uninformative book about what should be a fascinating subject. Neither ethnography, history nor biography, this book is a boring melange of ill-digested material.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Singh

    I listened to this book on Audible. Overall, I was satisfied with what I learned. I appreciated that Fernandes cited other books/papers. She provided factual information on The Last Jews of Kerala but also shared stories about the last few who remained.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bhadra

    What could have been a fascinating read, let down by author's desire to play to the gallery.All the goods parts are courtesy her secondary research (for instance she heavily borrows from Mandelbaum's works) but her contribution is passable at best. What could have been a fascinating read, let down by author's desire to play to the gallery.All the goods parts are courtesy her secondary research (for instance she heavily borrows from Mandelbaum's works) but her contribution is passable at best.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Gross

    This book was really interesting. I listened to it on audible and I have one slight criticism, the narrator mispronounced so many things!!!!! I don’t even understand how this got published as is. Don’t listen on audible

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    A very interesting read on a truly remarkable group of communities. I thoroughly enjoyed the authors style.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    I had such high hopes for learning so much from this book... alas, so poorly written that I could not make it past page 38. :(

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sadhana

    Interesting subject but poor editing

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Interesting I did not know of the Indian diaspora prior to reading this. I found the writer very engaging though repeatative at times.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nancy McQueen

    An interesting book on a little known cultural group in India.

  19. 5 out of 5

    C.

    faced with a lack of prejudice, the jews created a racist caste system just for jews. goddamit.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Manu Pd

    Research is poor. Names of places are wrong Parur is mentioned as Parul?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve Cran

    This is my second time reading this book. Some may find it a bit opinionated others will love the history that is relayed to the reader in this book. Big question here is what causes a community or society to fold. The author points to community dissension and an apartheid type apparatus operating in the Cochini Jewish community. There are two groups of Jews in Kerala, one is a darker skinned almost Indian looking Jew and another one which hail form Europe is of lighter complexion. The lighter c This is my second time reading this book. Some may find it a bit opinionated others will love the history that is relayed to the reader in this book. Big question here is what causes a community or society to fold. The author points to community dissension and an apartheid type apparatus operating in the Cochini Jewish community. There are two groups of Jews in Kerala, one is a darker skinned almost Indian looking Jew and another one which hail form Europe is of lighter complexion. The lighter complected Jews find themselves feeling superior to the other Jews and have excluded them from participating in the synagogue, will not eat from their restaurants and intermarriage between the two groups is absolutely forbidden. Jewish racism against other Jews is not something new. White Jews or European Jews have been been constantly discriminating against darker Jews since god knows how long.For poignant example one need look at how the Yemenite Jews were treated or the Moroccan Jews were treated. The Israeli Government had the audacity to kidnap 5,000 Yemenite babies and sell them abroad. Moroccan Jews were subjected to radiological experiments. Look up "Ringworm children" on the internet. The Bene Israel Jews have been at many times called "non Jews"despite several thousands of years of practice. The racism goes on. Jews first came to India in the time of King Solomon. Traders settled there and took on Indians wives and had children with them . This was the nucleus of one of the Indian Jewish communities. This community would later be supplemented by refugees from the Babylonian Exile an the Roman exile in 70 CE. The Paradesi Jews from Spain arrived during the inquisition. Later on they would proclaim themselves the original community and would look down upon their darker brethren . Joseph Rabban who both Jews claim descent from was sort of like a Jewish governor. He helped one on the Rajas in battle and was given control over several villages. The copper tablet are held in a Paradesi synagogue. The darker Jews claim it was stolen from them. This is a major sticking point between the two communities. Barriers started to break down during the Ghandi years when Avo Salem turned down a lucrative career in politics and fought a battle on behalf of his brethren. Against the Paradesi. He started slowly to enter the synagogue little bit by little bit until his community gain full recognition and were given a place. Avo's sons Balfour and Gamy would also marry Paradesi women. The women were ostracized to be sure. Some fought back really hard while others just went with the flow. Edna Flores visited this community while she was pregnant with her child. The community was dwindling in India and was in it's last days. But in Israel those that went there in most cases thrived. They were building profitable businesses in the Negev desert. One guy name Abraham did want to move back to India as the spiritual life in Israel was some what lacking.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This book is an account of that portion of the Jewish diaspora that wound up on the southwest coast of India, in Kerala. King Solomon sent traders there before the Christian era, and later, after the destruction of the temples, additional Jews wound up on its shores. These early settlers, heavily male, intermarried with the dark-skinned local women and their descendants, retaining dark coloration, are known as "black Jews". One early settler made a great impression on the local Raja and was gran This book is an account of that portion of the Jewish diaspora that wound up on the southwest coast of India, in Kerala. King Solomon sent traders there before the Christian era, and later, after the destruction of the temples, additional Jews wound up on its shores. These early settlers, heavily male, intermarried with the dark-skinned local women and their descendants, retaining dark coloration, are known as "black Jews". One early settler made a great impression on the local Raja and was granted special privileges, almost on a par with being royal. Another wave of immigrants followed the Inquisition, and remained segregated, protecting their racial purity as white-skinned people, or "white Jews", disdaining their darker brethren and refused to intermarry or use the same synagogues. The advantage of being in Kerala was the high level of religious tolerance, for Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Christians lived and still live in amity. When the State of Israel was founded, some Indian Jews, from Kerala as well as from Bombay and Calcutta and elsewhere, went to Israel and most stayed, gradually getting used to the very different conditions. A few who went from Kerala to Israel were uncomfortable in Israel, mostly because of the unending fear of the Arab neighbors but also because of the hustle and bustle, and some of these returned to Kerala where one's neighbors were not hostile, at least not physically hostile. The exodus to Israel plus the disdain of the white Jews for the dark ones has led to a great diminution of the Jewish population in Kerala and in India in general. The "white Jews", now numbering 10 or less im Kerala, will not survive; there are no children and no prospects of any. The "black Jews" are trying to survive in Kerala, for they are willing to marry Jews from e.g. Bombay if that urban individual is willing to re-settle in the "backwater" of Kerala, not an easy change. Jewishness in Kerala has remained conservative and observant, much moreso than in Israel. I noticed that the author nowhere discussed the Israeli religious ruling that a Jew is the offspring of a Jewish mother. I doubt that the black Jews were founded by Jewish mothers, more likely by Jewish fathers. I kept wishing for some Y-chromosome and mitochrondrial DNA analyses of these populations!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    Unfortunately I started reading this book just after returning from Kerala. (I only heard of it on my trip.) This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the descriptions she gives of the people, food, atmosphere, and city brought back wonderful memories of my time in Kerala and I often knew exactly what she was talking about. On the other hand, however, during my trip I knew nothing about the Jews of Cochi, and had to read the book kicking myself because I had not visited Jew Town, etc, while I w Unfortunately I started reading this book just after returning from Kerala. (I only heard of it on my trip.) This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the descriptions she gives of the people, food, atmosphere, and city brought back wonderful memories of my time in Kerala and I often knew exactly what she was talking about. On the other hand, however, during my trip I knew nothing about the Jews of Cochi, and had to read the book kicking myself because I had not visited Jew Town, etc, while I was there only a week before! The book is a little strange in that sometimes it is very repetitive, but only in short bursts - like a sentence from the last chapter has been copy-pasted into this one. The topics, however, are not repetitive. I found the book interesting and engaging, however. I was worried it would be dry and boring, especially for someone who knows very little about Jewish or Indian culture, but the personal interviews made it very relatable, turning it into the story of, quite literally, people. I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of absolutely everything in the book - and I expect much of it is still argued over even by experts. But if you are looking for an interesting, engrossing, readable book for non-experts about the Jews of Kerala, you will enjoy this book. Definitely read it if you are planning a trip to Cochin, so you can make the most of your trip!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Babak Fakhamzadeh

    Excellent portrait of this vanishing ethnic group. The old testament contains suggestive hints that already as far back as king Solomon's days, Jews traded between Israel and the west Indian coast. It's not unlikely that already back then some Jews either remained behind or left offspring in India. However, quite certain is that after the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, in 70AD, some Jews did move to India to settle. Then, in two more waves after that, Jews came to India as well, t Excellent portrait of this vanishing ethnic group. The old testament contains suggestive hints that already as far back as king Solomon's days, Jews traded between Israel and the west Indian coast. It's not unlikely that already back then some Jews either remained behind or left offspring in India. However, quite certain is that after the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, in 70AD, some Jews did move to India to settle. Then, in two more waves after that, Jews came to India as well, the most recent after being kicked out of Christian Spain, after that had been reconquered from their former Muslim overlords. With the many different waves of Jews coming into Kerala, two distinct communities took shape; a much darker skinned group, harking back to the first migrants, and a much lighter skinned group, the two virtually never interacting with each other due to an apartheid policy instigated by the lighter skinned Jews in the course of centuries past. Now, however, with only a dozen 'white' and a few dozen 'black' Jews left, primarily due to migrations back to Israel after 1948, they have no choice but to work together again, if only to stave off extinction just a little bit longer.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marcy

    I enjoyed reading this book and learning more about Indian Jews--especially because this is the first book I've read about them where the author gives some plausible explanation for how they got here and also why so many became Zionist colonists in Palestine. Here the mythology of a biblical ship wreck is not the story one gets as to how Jews arrived in India--it was about trading relations. Too, it was economics that pushed them out in the 1950s when they first started moving to Bedouin areas o I enjoyed reading this book and learning more about Indian Jews--especially because this is the first book I've read about them where the author gives some plausible explanation for how they got here and also why so many became Zionist colonists in Palestine. Here the mythology of a biblical ship wreck is not the story one gets as to how Jews arrived in India--it was about trading relations. Too, it was economics that pushed them out in the 1950s when they first started moving to Bedouin areas of Palestine in al-Naqab. What was interesting in this book is the focus on the racial divisions between the "white Jews" and "black Jews", a conflict that has led to the erasure of these two communities in many ways. Tellingly, it seems that the black Jews are the ones who have returned to India from Israel because they were not treated well there. I've heard there are errors in this book, but I'm not enough of an expert to catch them. But one I did catch: Fernandes says at least 5 times that there was a war between Israel and Lebanon in 1984. It was 1982. That should have been fact checked.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    I learned that the Jews have been in India for thousands of years. They traded with India for decorations for the first temple of Solomon. They were awarded a high status by the Indian Raj, and enjoyed respect and peace in India unlike any other country to which they came. Those who had been in India a long time had intermarried and had darker skin than those who escaped Europe during the inquisition. The later, light-skinned Jews dubbed the others "Black Jews," kicked them out of their temple, I learned that the Jews have been in India for thousands of years. They traded with India for decorations for the first temple of Solomon. They were awarded a high status by the Indian Raj, and enjoyed respect and peace in India unlike any other country to which they came. Those who had been in India a long time had intermarried and had darker skin than those who escaped Europe during the inquisition. The later, light-skinned Jews dubbed the others "Black Jews," kicked them out of their temple, barred them from observances in the synagogue. Intermarriage was not allowed. The result of this as well as emigration to Israel is that there are only a handful of Cochini Jews left in Kerala. Of the few young people, there is no thought of marriage, so this long line is at its end. The author, a British journalist of Indian heritage, also travels to Israel to speak to some who have migrated there.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    The book gave an interesting narrative by a reporter who spent time getting to know the jewish Kerala community. It refers to more comprehensive literature on the background and is a soft story of the local community. It interestingly talks about the various religous communities in Kerala who live harmoniously side by side, jew, christian, hindu and Muslim. It explores the inner dynamics of the white and black Jewish community and was an interesting read. It makes me think Kerala would be a inter The book gave an interesting narrative by a reporter who spent time getting to know the jewish Kerala community. It refers to more comprehensive literature on the background and is a soft story of the local community. It interestingly talks about the various religous communities in Kerala who live harmoniously side by side, jew, christian, hindu and Muslim. It explores the inner dynamics of the white and black Jewish community and was an interesting read. It makes me think Kerala would be a intersting place to visit culturally and architecturally - not many places you can look left and right to see a hindu temple, a church, a synagoue and a mosque!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    A sad but beautiful account of the past and present of the Jewish community in Kerala. Found it especially interesting since I had made a touristy visit to the much mentioned quaint Jew Town at Mattanchery on my last India trip. Not only is the book informative but also gives the reader much food-for-thought about how religion and faith has ended up playing a sad role in the painful disappearance of a fairly content and promising community. Highly recommended if (like me) you prefer your history A sad but beautiful account of the past and present of the Jewish community in Kerala. Found it especially interesting since I had made a touristy visit to the much mentioned quaint Jew Town at Mattanchery on my last India trip. Not only is the book informative but also gives the reader much food-for-thought about how religion and faith has ended up playing a sad role in the painful disappearance of a fairly content and promising community. Highly recommended if (like me) you prefer your history reading to be filled with personal anecdotes and tales as opposed to boring and dreary facts and numbers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This is a very interesting read about the ancient Jewish Community in Kerala in India. Jews have been living in this area for around two thousand years in harmony with the Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The book traces the history and life of this unique community of Jews which is dying out due to it's own racial divide between the Black Jews and the White Jews. Rather than being just history it is a social history with interviews of the "last" Jews and it even traces some who have migrated to I This is a very interesting read about the ancient Jewish Community in Kerala in India. Jews have been living in this area for around two thousand years in harmony with the Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The book traces the history and life of this unique community of Jews which is dying out due to it's own racial divide between the Black Jews and the White Jews. Rather than being just history it is a social history with interviews of the "last" Jews and it even traces some who have migrated to Israel. An interesting and human insight into a unique community.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christoph Fischer

    "The Last Jews of Kerala" by Edna Fernandes in an interesting and well researched historical study and account of a small minority in India. It is accurate and brings to life many small biographies over centuries and some interviews with the last members of that particular group. I did find that at times it lacked a bit of bite or journalistic edge, at least for my liking and I was beginning to loose interest towards the end of the book. "The Last Jews of Kerala" by Edna Fernandes in an interesting and well researched historical study and account of a small minority in India. It is accurate and brings to life many small biographies over centuries and some interviews with the last members of that particular group. I did find that at times it lacked a bit of bite or journalistic edge, at least for my liking and I was beginning to loose interest towards the end of the book.

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