We knew coming into the trip that we would be travelling a lot within India which is a pretty big country! The original plan was to take a short flight from Coimbature to Cochin this morning but a change was made at the last minute to drive by bus instead so we could stop at an elephant park on the way. India traffic and driving patterns are not always cooperative so we ended up spending 6 hours on the road instead of 4.5. However, our group spent the time shmoozing or resting and we made it to Cochin by 4 PM this afternoon.
A quick word about the elephant park- for some reason, when anyone sees an elephant, they get very excited. I don’t know if it’s their size or maybe they remind us of Dumbo – whatever it is, our group was just as happy to see the huge animals as we entered the park. It was pretty disappointing though when we saw the elephants chained to posts with no freedom to roam and walk around. Two people had recently been injured in the park by taking selfies with the elephants but the whole experience was very disconcerting for those of us used to seeing the pachyderms roaming around zoos in America or Israel or wherever. It was good to see them though and we continued our journey with another delicious lunch.
Cochin is a port city at the southern tip of India and has been the home to a Jewish community for hundreds of years. The spice trade emanates from India and many Jews were merchants who prospered in this area. One area of shops is known as Jew Town because of the Jewish merchants living and doing business there for hundreds of years. Although that might sound anti- semitic, we have seen and heard many times since we arrived that there is little or no anti-semitism in India so if anything, Jew Town is a name of respect here. It is still known as a tourist stop for shopping even though the Jewish community has dwindled to 20 people who are mostly elderly.
However, it is important to know why there are no Jews left in Cochin. Most members of the community made Aliyah after the state was created. They moved as a community and they now live in several yishuvim and other areas to be able to live together and protect their culture. The Cochin Jews made Aliyah out of pure Zionistic reasons because they were leading good lives here in India. It was another example of that special Indian connection to love of Zion and the interest in making their dream to live in Israel a reality.
Ralphy ushered us off the bus in Cochin and we headed by boat to the other side of the city to visit one of 2 shuls that are still “active” here. On Shabbat, we will be davening in the other shul which is near our hotel and we will be having the first Tfillot there in over 40 years. This first shul we saw today is a major tourist attraction but we were able to spend some time there and admire the beautiful architecture. One interesting thing is that both shuls are constructed the same way with one bimah in the regular place on the main floor but a second bimah upstairs right in front of the Ezrat Nashim was used for Kriat Hatorah. It seems to be unique to Cochin and should be interesting when we use it on Shabbat for layning!
We made it back to the hotel after some quick shopping and were treated to a nice supper and yet another fascinating lecture by the Aris squared! Now it’s off to bed to rest up for another adventure tomorrow with some backwaters boating (I hope to find out what that is exactly for tomorrow’s blog!). Take care and see you soon!!