- By Pramila Krishnan
- BBC Tamil
Davvid Levi claims to be the final Jew to have lived within the southern Indian metropolis of Chennai.
That is as a result of, in accordance with authorities information, Mr Levi’s was the final Jewish household within the metropolis, which is the capital of Tamil Nadu state. (The BBC couldn’t confirm if the final two Jews documented in Tamil Nadu in accordance with India’s census had been Mr Levi and his spouse).
Mr Levi left India for “safety causes” following a property dispute in 2020. He now lives in Germany along with his household.
However Chennai, he says, will at all times be his first house and he is decided to protect his group’s tradition and historical past.
Greater than 10 generations of the Levi household, which has Portuguese origins, have lived in Chennai, which was a part of Madras province beneath British rule.
Mr Levi’s great-grandmother Rosa (he says she was named after the Tamil phrase for the rose flower) married Isaac Henriques De Castro, a diamond dealer from Amsterdam who moved to Madras together with her. The couple was killed in 1944 through the Holocaust in Germany whereas they had been on a visit.
After their deaths, their solely son and Mr Levi’s grandfather, Levi Henriques De Castro, returned to India.
For years, Mr Levi has been documenting the historical past of his household and different Jews who as soon as lived in Chennai on his Fb web page.
“I do that as a result of I do not need the legacy of my ancestors to die with me,” he informed BBC Tamil.
However he now desires to scale up the mission to protect his household’s previous. In 2020, he wrote to Tamil Nadu’s archaeology division, requesting the state to take over his household’s artefacts and protect them in a museum.
The objects embody some sacred Jewish texts certain in silver, just a few utensils utilized in spiritual rituals and different objects from a now-demolished synagogue in Chennai, the place Mr Levi’s grandfather was the final rabbi.
In line with India’s 2011 census, the nation had 4,429 Jews, with simply two recorded in Tamil Nadu. In 1921, Madras province had 45 Jews.
Officers from Tamil Nadu’s archaeology division say they’re contemplating Mr Levi’s request.
“Researchers are at the moment verifying the possession and age of the objects,” mentioned T Udayachandran, the commissioner of Tamil Nadu’s archaeology division.
He added that the verification would take at the least one other yr, requiring examination by a workforce of professional archaeologists.
Native historians say the artefacts might be of nice historic worth as they provide insights right into a lesser-known aspect of Jewish immigration.
Chennai was as soon as a secure haven for Jews who fled Spain within the seventeenth Century after going through persecution, historian Venkatesh Ramakrishnan says.
Mr Ramakrishnan says many of those households traded primarily in diamonds with their kin in Europe.
“As their commerce flourished, a avenue in Chennai was named after them, known as the Coral Service provider Avenue, which exists to today.”
Historians say Mr Levi’s artefacts may additionally assist throw gentle on the bigger Jewish group in India.
In addition to Tamil Nadu, Jews primarily settled within the southern state of Kerala; the western state of Maharashtra and alongside the Konkan coast; and within the japanese state of West Bengal. Most of them had been merchants.
However regardless of the wealthy legacy of the group, specialists say their historical past is quick disappearing from public life and reminiscence.
As an example, in Kerala, solely three of the eight synagogues which had been constructed between eleventh Century and sixteenth Century stay now, says Karmachandran, a historical past professor who makes use of just one identify.
“The Kerala authorities ought to defend these historic monuments as a result of they present that India had been a rustic which inspired spiritual variety and concord,” Mr Karmachandran says.
“The Jews lived a secure and peaceable life in India for a lot of generations and their historical past is now India’s historical past,” he provides.
Even in Tamil Nadu, synagogues have confronted neglect, Mr Levi says.
Chennai used to have two synagogues which had been constructed within the seventeenth Century to cater to the small Jewish group.
However neither of them stand in the present day, Mr Levi says. The final synagogue within the metropolis was demolished in 1968 to construct a college.
“Because the group dwindled, we could not struggle again to maintain our property,” Mr Levi says.
Ramachandra Vaithiyanath, a historian, says that none of Tamil Nadu’s museums or cultural centres have any document of the Jewish group.
The Jews had been “very a lot linked to the native folks and their social actions” so it is just proper that the state ought to settle for Mr Levi’s calls for and maintain his household possessions in a museum, he provides.
For Mr Levi, nonetheless, the conservation mission stays deeply private. “These are sacred articles which had been utilized by my ancestors with a lot reverence,” he says.
“They’re part of this metropolis’s historical past and mine.”
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