Still Standing – the Last Jews of Jew Town

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala.  Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala. Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

Xandari Harbour, going beyond a hotel, doubles as a gateway to history. Located between the tourist paradise of Fort Kochi and the heritage rich bylanes of the spice markets of Mattanchery, it sees people and time come and go. Among the tales we hold precious is the heartwarming lifestory of the Jews of Jew Town. A handful left, behind doors and windows they sit – reminders of a people who found warm refuge in an alien land. Reminders of a page of a history turning to close.

In a small neighbourhood in the South Indian city of Cochin, Kashmiri shopkeepers in Islamic dress stand in front of shops emblazoned with banners reading “Shalom!” Inside, Hindu statues and shawls vie for space with Jewish stars, menorahs and mezuzahs. Although this multiculturalism might seem strange, the majority-Hindu city is well known for its substantial Muslim and Christian populations. Less known is that there’s also a fast-dwindling native Jewish community, known as the Paradesi (Foreign) Jews, who once populated the neighbourhood of Jew Town.

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India to Antwerp, this Story of Diamonds

Indians have come to control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry.(Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)

Indians have come to control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry. (Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly)

What New York is to the world’s money markets, Antwerp is to the global diamond trade. Antwerp is also the centre of the secondary or rough diamond market. More than 50% of global production of rough, polished, cut and industrial diamonds passes through Antwerp. Around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds are handled in Antwerp generating an annual turnover of some €30 billion. The most valuable diamonds are usually cut in Antwerp, but as the economy globalises Antwerp remains a nerve centre with much of the actual diamonds shipped out to other, cheaper locations.

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