Sarah Cohen, oldest Jew in India, dies at 96

Sarah Cohen, oldest Jew in India, dies at 96
Sarah Cohen

Sarah Cohen, the oldest member of the Jewish community in India, died at the Jew Town in Mattancherry in Kerala's Kochi on Friday. She was 96. She would have turned 97 on September 4.

Her last rites will be performed on Sunday at 2pm at the Paradesi Synagogue.

Sarah's husband Jacob Cohen died 20 years ago, in 1999. After his death, she was taken care by a Muslim man Thaha Ibrahim, his wife Jasmine and a helper Celin Xavier. Thaha is a photographer and a chronicler of Jewish community in Mattancherry.

She owned a small souvenir shop - Sarah’s Embroidery Shoppe- near the Synagogue that sold Kippah, the hand embroidered traditional Jewish caps.

With her death, the number of Jews in Mattancherry has been reduced to just two. They are: Queni Hallegua (84) and Keith Hallegua (60).

Sarah was a prominent figure of the Jew Town till her death. Visitors would have never left the place without getting a glimpse of Sarah Aunty, as she was fondly called, who would be sitting near the window of her home - a few metres away from the synagogue - and singing her daily Hebrew prayers from a weathered prayer book. She always wore colourful floral house dress and a matching handmade Kippah.

Sarah Cohen, oldest Jew in India, dies at 96
Sarah was the oldest member of the Jewish community in India.

Despite the age-related illness, she had a sharp memory and remembered the old Jewish songs sung by the people in Mattancherry.

Sarah Cohen, oldest Jew in India, dies at 96
The Paradesi Synagogue

In April this year, she cast her vote in the Lok Sabha election at the Aasia Bai Higher Secondary School.

“I had discouraged her from voting, but she insisted to cast the vote," Thaha had said in April.

She had many visitors from different parts of the world when the Paradesi Synagogue celebrated the 450th anniversary in December last year. Clad in a silk maxi dress and a green scarf, she was wheeled into the synagogue the first time in many years. Prayers were not held in the synagogue for many years as it could not meet the quorum of 10 men.

Sarah Cohen, oldest Jew in India, dies at 96
Inside view of the Paradesi Synagogue

Built in 1568 by Spanish-speaking Jews, the Paradesi synagogue is the oldest active Jewish place of worship in Kerala. The word paradesi means foreigner in Malayalam.

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