India: The Paradesi Synagogue hosted a Tefillin ceremony for the first time in decades

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One of Kochi’s oldest monuments, the Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568, came alive last Friday after lying more or less dormant for nearly four decades. For the first time since the 1970s, it hosted a Tefillin ceremony in preparation for Bar Mitzvah, a religious celebration that marks a Jewish boy’s initiation into the rights and obligations of adulthood.

Located in Mattancherry’s Jew Town, the synagogue doesn’t even have a warden these days though it is open to tourists. But last week, it brought cheer to the last five Jews — all in their twilight years — still resident in the locality. For them, it was an occasion for a rare reunion with their kin who had migrated to Israel in the years that followed India’s independence. For the Bar Mitzvah boy, Yonathan Finkelstein, it was also an opportunity to retrace his ancestry. “He will be a full member of the community when he turns 13 soon. It was a blessing that he could connect with his roots and had his pre-Bar Mitzvah at the same synagogue as his forefathers,” says Yonathan’s father, Yaakov Finkelstein, who is the Consul-General of Israel in Mumbai.

Like hundreds of Mattancherry Jews, Yonathan’s grandmother and Yaakov’s mother, Becky, had left Kochi for the ‘Promised Land’ in the 1950s. Becky and her brothers Meir and Igal Ayalon, who had left Kochi as young children, were now back in their place of birth, thanks to Yonathan’s first holy service.

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