Ancient synagogue of Black Jews in Kochi collapses in heavy rain

Ancient synagogue of Black Jews in Kochi collapses in heavy rain
'Karutha Palli' or Kadavumbagam Synagogue

Kochi: A major portion of an ancient, non-operational synagogue of black Jews in Kochi collapsed in the heavy rain on Tuesday.

Known as 'Karutha Palli' (Synagogue of Black Jews) or Kadavumbagam Synagogue, it once served the Malabari Jews and was the epicentre of a racist struggle between White Jews and Black Jews within the Jewish community. It is located at Marakkadavu in Mattancherry, a short distance away from Mattancherry's famous 'Paradesi' synagogue.

The White Jews – or Paradesi Jews from Spain, Portugal and Netherlands – were considered the elite class and enjoyed the right to worship as well as full membership at the synagogue. The Black Jews were the settlers from Kochi. They were allowed to worship but were denied full membership.

During the 1950s and 60s, many members of the Kadavumbagam Synagogue immigrated to Israel, and membership in the congregation dwindled. According to Judaism, group prayers can only be offered if there is a quorum of 10 men. Subsequently, the Torah Scrolls were transported to Mashav Nevatim in Israel. The interiors were moved to Israel, restored and displayed in a museum there.

The synagogue had been in a ruined state for long. In 1975, a storm caused serious damage to it. The roof and walls were compromised and foundational damage required the entire structure to be lifted hydraulically.

Parts of the synagogue were demolished earlier to widen the road.

Unlike the remaining synagogues in the city, the synagogue does not belong to the Jew community. After it was noticed that the synagogue was left in shambles, it's guardianship was transferred to one of its long-standing members, Elias “Babu” Josephai.

Though he had done considerable maintenance work, many complained that no serious effort has been taken to restore the synagogue and turn it into a dedicated cultural site like the Paradesi synagogue.

Only the Paradesi synagogue in Mattancherry still functions as a synagogue.

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