The Last Jews of Kerala

The Two Thousand Year History of India's Forgotten Jewish Community

About The Book

Two thousand years ago, trade routes and the fall of Jerusalem took Jewish settlers seeking sanctuary across Europe and Asia. One little-known group settled in Kerala, in tropical southwestern India. Eventually numbering in the thousands, with eight synagogues, they prospered. Some came to possess vast estates and plantations, and many enjoyed economic privilege and political influence. Their comfortable lives, however, were haunted by a feud between the Black Jews of Ernakulam and the White Jews of Mattancherry. Separated by a narrow stretch of swamp and the color of their skin, they locked in a rancorous feud for centuries, divided by racism and claims and counterclaims over who arrived first in their adopted land. Today, this once-illustrious people is in its dying days. Centuries of interbreeding and a latter-day Exodus from Kerala after Israel's creation in 1948 have shrunk the population. The Black and White Jews combined now number less than fifty, and only one synagogue remains. On the threshold of extinction, the two remaining Jewish communities of Kerala have come to realize that their destiny, and their undoing, is the same.

The Last Jews of Kerala narrates the rise and fall of the Black Jews and the White Jews over the centuries and within the context of the grand history of the Jewish people. It is the story of the twilight days of a people whose community will, within the next generation, cease to exist. Yet it is also a rich tale of weddings and funerals, of loyalty to family and fierce individualism, of desperation and hope.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Skyhorse (June 1, 2008)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781626369351

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Raves and Reviews

"Two thousand years ago, a little-known group of Jews settled in Kerala, in southwestern India. Eventually, they numbered in the thousands, with eight synagogues. Fernandes explains that some of them owned large estates and plantations and enjoyed economic privilege and political influence, but for centuries, the Black Jews of Ernakulam feuded with the White Jews of Mattancherry, fighting over who arrived first in their adopted land. Today, fewer than 50 Jews are left, and only one synagogue remains. 'This account,' Fernandes writes, 'charts their rise and fall, from a glorious centuries-long heyday when they were the confidantes of kings, to the twentieth-century decline and twenty-first-century denouement.' Fernandes says that their fortunes were lost by a devastating nexus of apartheid, centuries of interbreeding, mental illness, and a latter-day exodus from Kerala after the creation of Israel in 1948. Fernandes, a British Indian journalist, is the author of Holy Warriors (2007). Her new book brings to life a Jewish society little known to most of us."—Booklist

"Two thousand years ago, a little-known group of Jews settled in Kerala, in southwestern India. Eventually, they numbered in the thousands, with eight synagogues. Fernandes explains that some of them owned large estates and plantations and enjoyed economic privilege and political influence, but for centuries, the Black Jews of Ernakulam feuded with the White Jews of Mattancherry, fighting over who arrived first in their adopted land. Today, fewer than 50 Jews are left, and only one synagogue remains. 'This account,' Fernandes writes, 'charts their rise and fall, from a glorious centuries-long heyday when they were the confidantes of kings, to the twentieth-century decline and twenty-first-century denouement.' Fernandes says that their fortunes were lost by a devastating nexus of apartheid, centuries of interbreeding, mental illness, and a latter-day exodus from Kerala after the creation of Israel in 1948. Fernandes, a British Indian journalist, is the author of Holy Warriors (2007). Her new book brings to life a Jewish society little known to most of us."—Booklist