About Paradesi Synagogue and Jew Street, Kochi
Paradesi Synagogue and Jew Street in Kochi, Kerala, are two prominent sites which reflect the legacy of a once-thriving Jewish community in India.
Dating back almost 2,000 years to the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD the Jewish community in Kerala witnessed several phases of immigration to the region. Many Jews arrived from Europe – particularly Spain – in the 16th century, leading to divisions between the more established community and that of the new arrivals. Today the community has almost ceased to exist, with most of the Jews of the region having moved to Israel.
Despite the challenges facing this community, there are still many sites which highlight the impact of these Indian Jewish communities. Perhaps the best known of these sites is the Paradesi Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue still in use in the Commonwealth – predating even the oldest active synagogues in Britain.
Originally constructed in 1568 it was partially destroyed when the Portuguese invaded the area in 1662 but restored two years later after the Dutch wrestled control from the Portuguese. A seemingly modest white building on the outside, the Paradesi Synagogue is magnificently decorated inside – with ornate of chandeliers and hand-painted ceramic tiles originally imported from China. Visitors are required to dress modestly – no short trousers/skirts or sleeveless tops.
Another popular destination for those seeking this Jewish legacy is Jew Town Road, sometimes called Jew Street. Located next to the synagogue it was once the heart of the Jewish community, though today you’re more likely to find a host of antique sellers. At one end of this street is the remains of the old Jewish cemetery.