Kerala Jewish settlement has just 8 members

Fading community

With the demise of 90-year-old Johnny Hallegua, the number of Jews at Mattancherry in Kochi, one of the oldest Jewish settlements in the country, has come down to just eight.

Hallegua, who suffered a fracture on a leg from a fall, had been confined to a wheelchair for the past six months. He breathed his last on Friday following a massive heart attack. He was laid to rest at the Jewish cemetery near Paradeshi Synagogue in Mattancheery.
He is survived by wife Juliette, son Brian, a dentist in Australia, and daughter Nima, married and settled in Israel.

The remaining jewish population in Mattanchery include two men and six women, and all are aged above 70. While in its heyday the Jewish population was around 25,000 in Kochi, it has now reduced to just 46.

This abysmally low number of the population is a major hurdle for the community in Mattancherry for meeting the prerequisite ten-member quorum for certain religious rites,  including the funeral.

For Hallegua’s funeral, his relatives had to find a rabbi and seek the presence of two Israeli tourists, who happened to be in the city, to be present at the funeral service to meet the required numbers.

The life of depleting Jewish population and their Synagogue are the main tourists attraction of Mattancherry, though the community frowned upon its antique tag. Hallegua, one of the senior most members of the community, was very much upset over this treatment by the society, said family sources.

The Jewish population has been dwindling in Kochi like elsewhere in the country with the massive migration of younger generation to Israel, the land of their forefathers, and other parts of the world in search of the greener pastures in the past three decades.

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