Chennai Journal
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Jewish Life in India
In previous posts I have written about Marty's and my trip to Bombay for the High Holidays, and visits to Cochin to visit the old synagogue there and what remains of Jewtown. Here in Chennai, there is no indigeneous Jewish community, only a cemetery with a very sad history that dates from the time of the East India Company. However, as everywhere, even a small Jewish community will manage to find itself together, and that is what happened last night when Roberta and I were invited to our friend Rochelle's house to meet two young people, Lindy and Jon, who have recently relocated to the city.

Rochelle, who you see in the middle of the picture, has been in Madras for over 50 years, moving here with her husband from Bombay in the 1950s. Her family is originally from the B'nei Israel community in Pune, near Bombay, but she grew up in Hyderabad, where her father had a cinema business. During World War II, refugees from Europe, turned away by other countries, found their way to India, and a number of them came to Hyderabad. Usually they found their way to Rochelle's parents house.

Rochelle's father died when she was a child, and every day her mother went to the small cemetery in Hyderabad where the Muslims (Hyderabad is a heavily Muslim city) had given over a small portion of their own cemetery for the Jews to use. There were only a couple of dozen graves there, and the one next to Rochelle's father was that of a European woman--which Rochelle's mother, out of a sense of obligation, tended along with her husband's. Decades later, Rochelle happened to be at party in Madras and sat down next to a foreign woman who was visiting the city. After chatting, they discovered not only that they were both Jewish but that the woman's parents had been in Hyderabad during and after the war. If you are Jewish (and probably even if you're not), you know the rest of this story---the European woman buried next to Rochelle's father was none other than the foreign woman's mother.

There is a Jewish cemetery in Chennai, though as noted above it has a sad history. It was originally located near the beach, and about 40 years ago, the land was needed for other purposes and the cemetery was about to be razed. At that time, there were a number of other Indian Jews living in Madras, though all of them but Rochelle have since moved to Israel, died, or gone to other cities. This group met and tried to decide what to do. They were successful in persuading the government not to destroy, but remove, the graves to another spot. However, the new location is poorly tended and it is a constant struggle to maintain. One day, Roberta and I plan to visit it and see for ourselves.

Ciao, I'm an Italian jewish man, and I'm planing a my job travel in Chennay.
I found very interting your post, and if I can , I want make some question to you.
1 have you an addres for Jewish cemetery?
2 Are there a sinagogue to visit, or (but if I understood well is impossible) for pray
3 is possible make a shabbath whit this family? Are they some ortodox?
Best regards Mario
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