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Nationalism, religion and community: A. B. Salem, the politics of identity and the disappearance of Cochin Jewry*

  • James Chiriyankandath (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This article considers how the existence of an ancient community, the Jews of Cochin on India’s Malabar coast, was transformed by the force of two powerful twentieth-century nationalisms – Indian nationalism and Zionism. It does so through telling the story of a remarkable individual, A. B. Salem, a lawyer, politician, Jewish religious reformer, and Indian nationalist, who was instrumental in promoting the Zionist cause and facilitating the mass migration of the Cochin Jews to Israel. Salem’s story illustrates how the prioritization and translation of kinds of identity into the public sphere is fluid and contingent upon a variety of circumstances, personal as well as the outcome of changes in the wider world.

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1 Salman Rushdie, The moor’s last sigh, London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, p. 119.

2 David Ben-Gurion, Israel: a personal history, London: New English Library, 1972, pp. 80–1.

3 S. S. Koder, History of the Jews of Kerala, Cochin, 1974; Nathan Katz and Goldberg Ellen S., The last Jews of Cochin: Jewish identity in Hindu India, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993, pp. 36–45.

4 Adoor K. K. Ramachandran Nair, Kerala State Gazetteer, Trivandrum: Government of Kerala, 1986, vol. 2, pp. 293–4.

5 Census of India, 1901: Vol. 20. Cochin. Part I. Report, Ernakulam: Cochin Government Press, 1903, p. 61.

6 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 137.

7 Benjamin of Tudela, The itinerary, ed. Michael A. Signer, Malibu: Pangloss Press, 1983, pp. 120–1, quoted in Amitav Ghosh, In an antique land, London: Granta Books, 1992, p. 230.

8 Alexander Marx, ‘Contributions à l’histoire des Juifs de Cochin’, Revue des Études Juives 89, 1930, pp. 293–6, quoted in Segal J. B.‘White and black Jews at Cochin: the story of a controversy’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 2, 1983, pp. 230–1.

9 Louis Dumont, Homo hierarchicus: the caste system and its implications, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, p. 21.

10 Norman Davies, Europe: a history, London: Pimlico, 1996, p. 454.

11 Dumont, Homo hierarchicus, p. 54 n. 25e.

12 Fischel Walter J., ed., Unknown Jews in unknown lands: the travels of Rabbi David D’Beth Hillel (1824–1832), New York, NY: Ktav Publishing House, 1973, pp. 113–15; Eliya Ben Eliahu, Cochin Jewish records from state archives, Kiryat Moskin, Haifa, 1975, pp. 43–49.

13 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 116.

14 Segal J. B.A history of the Jews of Cochin, London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1993, pp. 76–7.

15 Schifra Strizower, Exotic Jewish communities, London: Thomas Yoseloff and World Jewish Congress, 1962, p. 100 n. 15.

16 Ruby Daniel and Johnson Barbara C., Ruby of Cochin: an Indian Jewish woman remembers, Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publishing Society, 1995, pp. 11–12.

17 Louis Rabinowitz, Far East mission, Johannesburg: Eagle Press, 1952, p. 112.

18 Ben Eliahu, Cochin, pp. 77–9.

19 Segal, History, pp. 78–80; Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, pp. 13, 16–17.

20 Rabinowitz, Far East, pp. 113–14; Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, pp. 18–19.

21 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 151.

22 Jussay P. M.The Jews of Kerala, Calicut: University of Calicut, 2005, p. 75.

23 Rabinowitz, Far East, p. 119.

24 Interview with A. B. Salem’s youngest son, Gamliel, Jew Town, Cochin, 1 January 1988; Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 21.

25 Salem to Director of Public Instruction, Travancore-Cochin, 7 August 1952, reproduced in Elias E. and Isaac E., Jews in India with Who is Who 1963, Ernakulam: Indo-Israel Publications, 1964, p. 12.

26 Shirley Berry Isenberg, ‘Indian nationalism and Indian Jews’, Indo- British Review: a journal of history, 15, 1, 1988, p. 106.

27 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 269.

28 Interview with Gamliel Salem (see n. 24).

29 The Jewish yearbook 1956, London, p. 459; Salem A. B., Report on the fishing stakes of Cochin, Cochin: Sircar, 1909, and Report on the inland fisheries of Cochin, Cochin: Sircar, 1909.

30 The Asylum Press almanac and directory of Madras and Southern India 1910, vol. 109, p. 1404, and 1913, vol. 112, p. 1409.

31 The Cochin Government Gazette, vol. 45, no. 5, 24 September 1910, Ernakulam, p. 53.

32 Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 14; Gamliel Salem interview (see n. 24).

33 Isenberg, ‘Indian nationalism and Indian Jews’, pp. 106–7.

34 Gamliel Salem interview (see n. 24).

35 ‘The Balfour Declaration’, The Times, London, 9 November 1917, p. 1, reproduced in Landen Robert G., The emergence of the modern Middle East: selected readings, New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1970, p. 197.

36 I am indebted to Ken Salem, a grandson of A. B. Salem, for the dates of birth of Salem’s children (e-mail communication, 22 May 2003).

37 Gamliel Salem interview (see n. 24); telephone interview with Samuel Hallegua, Cochin, 9 January 2000.

38 Abraham Barak Salem, unpublished diaries (1913–59, discontinuous), Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, California (henceforth JLMM), diary for 1951–2, entry for 29 November 1952; Martha Marenof, ‘The Black and White Jews of Cochin’, The Jewish Tribune, Bombay, December 1938, p. 11.

39 Salem A. B., Eternal light or Jew-Town synagogue, Ernakulam: S. D. Printing Works, 1929, pp. 46–7.

40 Madras Mail, 3 September 1919, p. 3, and 2 December 1920, p. 5.

41 Madras Mail, 22 June 1935, p. 7.

42 Abraham B. Salem, Cochin political pamphlet No. 1: a scheme for a constitution in Cochin, Ernakulam, 1924.

43 Madras Mail, 5 August 1926.

44 Madras Mail, 1 March 1927, p. 6.

45 Isenberg, ‘Indian nationalism and Indian Jews’, p. 106.

46 Kannan K. P., Of rural proletarian struggles: mobilization and organization of rural workers in Southwest India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 122.

47 Madras Mail, 4 April 1930, p. 5.

48 Madras Mail, 18 and 26 June and 20 July 1931; JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 18 June 1931.

49 Madras Mail, 27 December 1927, p. 4, and 20 April 1928, p. 5.

50 Madras Mail, 31 December 1929, p. 8.

51 Madras Mail, 1 and 2 September 1930; JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entries for 31 August and 1 September 1930.

52 Salem, Eternal light, pp. 41–2.

53 Jawaharlal Nehru, An autobiography, London: The Bodley Head, 1942, p. 273; JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 28 May 1931.

54 James Lazar Chiriyankandath, ‘Social change and the development of “modern” politics in Travancore: from the late nineteenth century to 1938’, PhD Thesis, University of London, 1985, pp. 198–9.

55 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 21 September 1930.

56 Madras Mail, 8 and 18 August 1930.

57 India Office Library and Records, L/Political & Secret/13/1275, Minute, Government of India Political Department, 23 February 1932.

58 Madras Mail, 3 December 1930, p. 12; JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 1 December 1930.

59 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 23 May 1931; Jamal Mohamed T.The Gujaratis: a study of socio-economic interactions [1850–1950], Delhi: Deputy Publications, 1990, p. 175.

60 Madras Mail, 2 June 1931, p. 5.

61 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 2 August 1931.

62 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 20 May 1931.

63 Madras Mail, 17 August 1931, p. 6.

64 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entries for 2 and 4 August 1931; Madras Mail, 15 December 1932, p. 3.

65 Sreedhara Menon AA survey of Kerala history, Madras: S. Viswanathan Pvt. Ltd., 1991, p. 307.

66 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1937–8, entries for 7–13 June 1938, and 1939–40, entry for 16 November 1939.

67 Cochin Legislative Council proceedings (henceforth CLCP) V, I, 24 July 1940, pp. 227–33; 1116 (1940/1), 29 January 1941, pp. 552–4; C24, 30 July 1941, pp. 380–2; V, VIII, 2, 2 December 1941, pp. 147–9; 1117 (1941/2), 29 July 1942, p. 86; and C31, 23 March 1943, pp. 512–14.

68 Mammen P. M., Communalism vs. communism: a study of the socio-religious communities and political parties in Kerala, 1892–1970, Calcutta: Minerva Associates (Publications) Private Ltd., 1981, pp. 68–73.

69 Jewish yearbook, p. 459; JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1937–8, entry for 12 September 1937.

70 Interview with V. B. Kalesan, a Congress and Praja Mandal election agent in the 1940s, Ernakulam, 10 April 2003.

71 CLCP VI, 1120 (1944/5), p. 229.

72 Koder to E. Ikkanda Warrier, Premier of Cochin, 8 December 1948, reproduced in Elias and Isaac, Jews, pp. 17–20.

73 Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, pp. 21–2.

74 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 152.

75 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1932–3, entry for 22 October 1932.

76 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1941–2, entry for 18 April 1942.

77 Rabinowitz, Far East, pp. 117–18.

78 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 157.

79 Rabinowitz, Far East, p. 119.

80 Interview with C. M. Antony, widowed husband of Malka (Mary), Ernakulam, 31 March 2003; Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 157.

81 Ibid., pp. 268–9.

82 The Cochin law reports, vol. 36, 1944/5, pp. 238–42, 557–83.

83 Mandelbaum David G., ‘Social stratification among the Jews of Cochin in India and Israel’, The Jewish Journal of Sociology, 17, 2, 1975, p. 188.

84 Interview with P. M. Jussay, Chief Editor of the Kerala Times, Ernakulam, 7 January 1999.

85 Interview with S. S. Koder, Fort Cochin, 1 January 1988.

86 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, p. 157; Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 21.

87 Fischel Walter J., ‘Early Zionism in India’, in Patai R., ed. Herzl year book: essays in Zionist history and thought, vol. 4, New York, NY: Herzl Press, 1961–2, pp. 310–12, 321.

88 The Jewish Bulletin, Bombay, October 1930, p. 49.

89 Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 250.

90 Letter from E. Elias, Honorary Secretary, The Jewish Tribune, Bombay, July 1938, p. 18.

91 Madras Mail, 7 June 1932, p. 4.

92 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1930–1, entry for 4 September 1930.

93 ‘Congress President on Zionist aspirations’, The Jewish Tribune, July 1936, p.7.

94 Ibid., Nehru to Sargon, 10 August 1936, September 1936, p. 7.

95 Mohandas Gandhi, ‘If I were a German Jew’, reprinted in The Jewish Advocate, Bombay, 2 December 1938, p. 12.

96 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1932–3, entry for 1 April 1933.

97 A. B. Salem, ‘Palestine to-day’, The Jewish Tribune, September 1933, p. 51.

98 A. B. Salem, ‘The time is near’, The Jewish Tribune, September 1933, p. 28.

99 Interview with Dr C. M. Antony (see n. 80).

100 Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 250.

101 Roland Joan G., Jews in British India: identity in a colonial era, Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 1989, pp. 195–6.

102 C. J. Kloetzel, ‘Forgotten Jews of India’, The Jewish Tribune, March 1937, p. 9.

103 Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 95.

104 Margaret Abraham, ‘The normative and the factual: an analysis of emigration factors among the Jews of India’, The Jewish Journal of Sociology, 33, 1, 1991, pp. 14–15, 17.

105 Katz and Goldberg, Last Jews, pp. 275–84.

106 Rabinowitz, Far East, pp. 149–50; Daniel and Johnson, Ruby, p. 96.

107 JLMM, A.B Salem’s diary for 1954, entry for 7 December 1954.

108 Interview with V. B. Kalesan (see n. 70).

109 Salem to Director of Public Instruction, Cochin, 7 August 1952, and Memorandum, dated 11 April 1954, both reproduced in Elias and Isaac, Jews, pp. 11–13, 25–26.

110 JLMM, A. B. Salem’s diary for 1956, entry for 6 March 1956.

111 JLMM, untitled file containing miscellaneous letters from A. B. Salem to Indian leaders, including President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Nehru, between 1950 and 1956.

112 Ashis Nandy, Time warps: Silent and evasive pasts in Indian politics and religion, London: C. Hurst, 2002, p. 198.

113 Janet M Moshe, ‘Proud of their roots: the Jewish community of Cochin displays its heritage at Moshav Nevatim’, Israel Magazine-On-Web, February 2001, <http://israel.org/MFA/Israel%20beyond%20the%20conflict/Proud%20of%20Their%20Roots>, accessed 13 February 2008.

114 Abraham Rabinovich, ‘Return from the east’, The Jerusalem Post 40 th Independence Day Magazine – international edition, 20 April 1988, pp. 38–41.

115 Sara Yoheved Rigler, Gush Katif Stories (posted 10 July 2005), <www.aish.com/jewishissues/israeldiary/Gush_Katif_Stories.asp>, accessed 22 August 2005.

116 Commemoration volume, Cochin Synagogue Quatercentenary Celebrations, December 15–19, 1968, Cochin: Kerala History Association and the Cochin Synagogue Quatercentenary Celebration Committee, 1971.

117 Elie Kedourie, Nationalism, London: Hutchinson, 1960, p. 75.

118 Quoted in Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The controversy of Zion: Jewish nationalism, the Jewish state, and the unresolved Jewish dilemma, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996, p. 77.

119 Salem, ‘The time is near’, p. 28.

120 Interview with Isaac Joshua, President of the Association of Kerala Jews, Ernakulam, 13 April 2003.

* I would like to thank two anonymous referees, as well as the editors of this journal, especially William Gervase Clarence-Smith and Ken Pomeranz, for their careful comment on drafts of this article.

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