When a people die out, can their story survive?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.
A true account of racism, feuds, and riches, The Last Jews of Kerala is a rich historical saga. Over 2,000 years ago, the town of Kerala was settled by the White Jews of Mattancherry and the Black Jews of Ernakulam after they were forced to flee Jerusalem. Edna Fernandes tells the story of how those two communities came to develop a fierce rivalry that eventually led both clans to ruin. Leslie Bellair's compassionate performance also serves to highlight the real human stories at the heart of these enthralling tales of the rise and fall of a culture.
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Good to learn the history, but slow moving story
The time was well spent to listen to the book as it had many back stories I didn't know. However, it was very slow moving. A little more historic detail or broader links to other Indian jews might have had some additional interest.
- Jeff A. Goldberg