The Worst Journey Ever. The Best Vacation Ever.
A few days after that, we made a trip to the Chendamangalam Synagogue. Most people are not aware, but India had a sizeable Jewish population, and had been there since ancient times. There is a legend that when St. Thomas came to Kerala, he was invited to a wedding. There, he sang a wedding song in a language that none of the attendees could understand, except for a Jewish flute-girl. Another story says that a lot of the Jews came to India after the destruction of the second temple. The Jews in Kerala clustered around Cochin (Kochi) and hence are known as the Cochin Jews. The synagogue in my hometown is situated in a rather unique spot. In fact, it is the only spot in the world where you will find places of worship of the four major religions, in a one kilometer radius. There is a Krishna temple on a hill, an old Christian Church down the hill, a Mosque by a ferry station, and of course, there’s the synagogue. It is a true testament to religious harmony – the four major religions of the world living in perfect harmony with each other. There are not many places in the world where you can see that.
In my opinion, the synagogue dates from the 1200’s, perhaps earlier, due to the finding of a gravestone of a Jewish woman by the synagogue who was buried there during that time. The gravestone was actually found by one of my uncles (from my mother’s side of the family). He had an avid interest in the synagogue and did a lot of exploring around it. However, the synagogue is currently dated as being newer than the big one in Cochin. This is apparently due to some “political” issues. But anyway… when I got to India, I heard from my cousins that the synagogue had been completely restored. I was pretty excited because I’ve gone to see that synagogue every year since my dad first took me there in 1990. Once the Jews left Chendamangalam for Israel, there was no one left to look after the synagogue. So it was locked up and left to the mercy of the elements and vandals. Over the years vegetation took over, and parts of the ceiling fell in. It was in a pretty sorry state. Sometime in 2005, a plan was made to restore the synagogue. It took about a year, but the end result was completely worth it. The architecture of the synagogue is interesting because it has elements of traditional Kerala architecture. The interior has displays with information about the history of the Cochin Jews and exhibits that contain pictures of Chendamanglam Jewish families and also little things like Hebrew-Malayalam translation books, religious items, and other things that gave me a glimpse into the life of a Jew in Chendamangalam. A lot of these items were donated by Chendamangalam Jews from Israel. Like I stated before, I absolutely love being in places of antiquity. So it was a wonderful experience seeing the synagogue restored to its former glory. Standing in the synagogue, I could almost catch a glimpse of the past. People filing into pray… children in the room upstairs taking Hebrew lessons… all quite fascinating.
Before I knew it, my leave was almost at an end. My original ticket was a round-trip back to Frankfurst. But that would make me lose another day of my leave and I didn’t want that. My dad figured that I could fly to Kuwait through Muscat and spend a day with them there. It has been over seven years since my whole family has been together in Muscat, so I was welcome to the idea. I mean, as long as I made it back to Kuwait at the appointed time, I was good. So we left India early in the morning on the 25th. It was a hard saying the good-byes. Especially to my Grandfather. He had had a wonderful time with all his children and grand-children around, and so it was hard for him to see all of us go. But I’m hoping I get to make a trip to India sometime late this year, or early next year. We reached Muscat at about 9 or 10 in the morning. After we put away all our luggage at home, we all went and had lunch. Then we went back home and chilled over there for a bit. I know my parents have gotten used to it, but it hasn’t been easy for them. When my sister and I left to go to the US after I finished my senior year of highschool, and she, her junior year, it was very hard for them. They were used to having us around, or hearing us fighting (especially in the car). In fact, my mom remarked about that as we were all driving around – how we used to fight so much in the back. Even though I only had a little more than a day, it was an amazing one. It was great being together in Muscat with my mom, dad and sister again. That evening, we went to dinner at my favourite restaurant Golden Oryx, with some family friends. After that, we got back home and I was painfully aware that I would have to leave tomorrow. I really didn’t want to, but I had no choice.