Page 8 - CochinBrochure

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and destroyed by the Muslim leader Tippu Sultan in 1790. (It was he who
fought and captured British soldiers, including some Bene Israel Jewish
ones, during the Second Mysore War. The Jewish lives were spared once
Tippu Sultan's mother discovered their identities as members of the
Kingdom of Israel. One of the surviving soldiers, Samuel Ezekiel Divekar,
settled in Bombay and, in 1796, founded the first Bene Israel synagogue
Shaar Harahamim, or Gate of Mercy, in 1796. To this day, the congregation
remains small but active. The church ruins, now overgrown and picturesque,
can still be seen on site. Built just nearby is the 19th century Holy Cross
Church, a large open trussed structure with its façade added only in 1976.
An accessory building, a residence for the church leader, is the oldest
surviving portion of the church complex. Considered a fine example of the
vernacular architecture of this region, with its whitewashed walls and high
pitched tiled roof, its design resembles the synagogue.
Historians assert that the existing synagogue at Chennamangalam is the third
to be constructed on the site. The first building, likely dating from 1614, and
then its replacement were both believed to have been destroyed by fire. The
current synagogue, a small building, thrived for many years. Yet for the past
five decades, it sat empty. Most of the Jews in the village had moved from
Chennamangalam in the early 1950s after the establishment of the State of
Israel. In the 1980s, with the Jewish community in decline, arrangements
were made for possession of the building to be eventually deeded to the
Indian government. Unattended to during these years, the synagogue
deteriorated to the point where portions of the roof and floor collapsed, large
sections of the whitewashed veneer eroded, and the structural integrity was
severely compromised. By the 1990s, vegetation
had consumed the building, and its doors and
windows had to be sealed against the elements and
from vandalism (left).
By the end of the 20th century, the last of the
Chennamangalam Jews had emigrated or passed on.
This allowed the State of Kerala office of the Indian
Department of Archaeology to embark on the
restoration of the Chennamangalam synagogue in
2004. Under the direction of Dr. V. Manmadhan
Nair and his staff, skilled restoration professionals
and area craftsmen meticulously brought the building back to form. The
Chennamangalam synagogue thus is the first of the Malabar Jewish
community sites to be restored by the government of India and made
accessible to the public.
Although not original to the synagogue, a high, thick wall surrounds the
Chennamangalam synagogue site. Its arrangement can best be described as a
"peninsula", since the perimeter wall aligns with the façade of the synagogue