Jewish Heritage Tours in Mumbai and Kochi, India

India seldom comes to mind when people think of Jewish culture and history, yet the centers of Mumbai and Kochi offer a fascinating glimpse of significant Jewish heritage and cultural sites in India.

Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, India

Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, India. Photo credit.

Jewish Heritage Tour in Kochi

Kochi city is rich in Jewish history and here you can learn how and why Jews came to this remote area during the time of King Solomon. This tropical southern city in India is notable for its old-world charm, fascinating history, diverse Indo-European architecture, wonderful Keralan cuisine and relaxed, unharried atmosphere. Kochi is also the gateway to the lovely state of Kerala.

Visit the Jewish Community and the beautiful Pardesi Synagogue. This Synagogue was built by Samuel Castiel, David Belila, Ephrahim Sala and stands on the grounds of the Maharaja of Cochins residence. It is the first synagogue in India, and one of the oldest in the world. At the Synagogue we will have the opportunity to hold original copper plates that established a Jewish Kingdom in the 4th century! Near the synagogue is an interesting market selling spices, and antiques, bursting with activity and variety. Visit a church that prays in Aramaic, walk through the Palace of the Maharajah, and learn how he saved the Jews from the Portuguese over 500 years ago. Also visit to the old synagogue at Ernakulum dating to the 13th century. On one of the Friday evenings, a Shabbat dinner could be included. Shabbat is the day of rest and seventh day of the week on which Jews remember the traditional creation of heavens and earth in six days and refrain from work activities. They engage in restful activities to honor the day. Shabbat is observed on Friday evening.

Jewish Heritage Tour in Mumbai

Begin with a brief orientation on India’s Jewish communities – the history of their arrival in India 2000 years ago, geographical spread, the different sects and their culture. The guide will provide with illustrated handouts and notes to deepen your understanding of India’s Jews. After the orientation, we will begin our sightseeing with a visit Sassoon Docks, built by an influential family of Baghdadi Jews. The docks are bustling with activity in the mornings, as the day’s catch is bought and sold. Drive to the Gateway of India, and see the Fort Heritage District and the Kala Ghoda Art District. Among the beautiful buildings that we will visit in this district are the Kenneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, with its beautiful interiors, and the David Sassoon Library. Next, we will visit the oldest synagogue in Mumbai, the Shaar Harahamim or Gate of Mercy Synagogue, built in 1796, by Samaji Hasaji Divekar (Samuel Ezekiel Divekar), a Bene Israeli. The street on which the synagogue is housed is also named Samuel Street after him. Later drive to the Magen David Synagogue, a tall blue building with a Gothic feel that towers over all the other buildings in the area. We will visit the Sassoon Children’s school in the same compound. From here drive to Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai’s unique outdoor laundry system. Near Dhobi Ghat is The Tippereth Israel synagogue of the Bene Israelis. Visit the original Bene Israel village at Navgaon and meet the remaining Bene IsraelJews. Two thousand years ago a group of Jews were shipwrecked off the coast of Bombay. They lived in interior villages and were known as the Bene Israel or “Sabbath oil pressers.” Visit a unique synagogue at Alibag and learn the compassionate story of this lost community, located in one of the most remote corners.

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