Thursday, August 21, 2014

As the community dwindles, burials are few at Jewish cemetery

Photos: The Jewish flag; Josephhai Abraham

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 2.30 p.m. on a hot Monday, an ambulance entered the gates of the Jewish cemetery on the Kathrakadavu-Pullepady road at Kochi. Inside was a coffin which carried the body of Sippora Soniya, a spinster, who passed away at the age of 38. “She had been unwell for a long time,” says her younger brother, Mordokkayi Shafeer.

Her death is ringing the death knell for the community. Now there are only 29 Jews left, which includes a group of elderly people.

In the past five years, there have been 10 deaths,” says Josephhai Abraham, of the Association of Kerala Jews, which consists of only six families. “As the community dwindles, the number of burials are becoming less.”

For a burial to take place, the Jews should have a quorum of ten male members, with a minimum age of 13, to conduct a Kaddish (hymns praising God). Soniya was lucky. A Jew from Vancouver and two from Israel had been in town to visit their in-laws. So they made up the ten for her quorum.

While prayers were also being read from the Torah, relatives placed bits of mud on the eyes and the lips of Soniya. “This is the mud from Jerusalem,” says Josephhai. “It is an act of symbolism to say that she has seen Jerusalem.”

The one-acre cemetery was given to the Jews, in 1946, by the British, through R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, the Diwan of the Kingdom of Kochi, for a token sum of Re 1. It is used by the Jews who belong to the Kaduvumbagam and Thekkumbagam synagogues of Ernakulam.

While there are graves, with nicely designed tombstones, there are also many unmarked ones, with thick grass and plants growing around them. “According to Jewish religious law, once a burial is made, the grave cannot be disturbed,” says Josephhai. “The section, near the road, as well as the west side, is full. So, the space is getting less.” 

(Page 1, Kerala edition, New Indian Express) 

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