Last month, the government of Kerala, India’s southernmost state, armed with a matching grant from the central government, started the reconstruction of the Parur synagogue that used to be frequented by Cochin Jews before they came on aliya, largely in the 1950s. The last of the community immigrated in the 1970s, leaving behind a mere handful of people, and the synagogue has remained in disuse since then. Today, fewer than 40 Cochin Jews remain on the Malabar coast.
The conservation is progressing at such a pace that the chief architect in charge of the project, Benny Kuriakose, believes it will be completed by the autumn. This governmental and federal project could be a beacon for other countries, which pay lip-service to the preservation of Jewish heritage.
“I was very excited to hear that the Kerala government is renovating the Parur synagogue and restoring it to the glory of its past,” said Tirza Lavi, a native of Parur, and a today a curator of the Heritage Center for Cochin Jews at Nevatim, south of Beersheba. “We hope that Parur will be a showcase to the younger generation, displaying our communities’ rich and interesting history. I am sure that Cochin Jews in Israel will be glad to take part in the project and share their knowledge and memories.”
Weil writes that the Jewish heritage trail and Parur synagogue are part of a much larger project.
The reconstruction of the Parur synagogue is only a small cog in the wheel of a huge project called the Muziris Heritage Project, which includes archeological excavations and the reconstruction of other historical monuments in the area, such as temples, churches and mosques. The idea is to create a tourism trail from the ancient port of Muziris, today known as Kodungallor, through Cochin, Parur and other nearby areas, and develop the already-existing tourism boom. Today, Kerala is the eighth most favorite tourist destination in the world.
The seeds of the monumental project were planted only a few years ago. The beautiful Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Cochin, constructed in 1568, has been a well-known tourist site ever since Indira Gandhi attended its quatercentenary celebrations in 1968 and the Indiangovernment issued a special commemorative stamp on the occasion. In more recent history, however, the Kerala government agreed to undertake the renovation of another abandoned Cochin Jewish synagogue belonging to the Malabari Jews in the village of Chendamangalam, near Cochin. In February 2006, the synagogue was reopened with an exhibition on the Cochin Jews, and the synagogue has become a popular tourist destination.
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