[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are religious wars going on in the world. Muslims hate Jews. Hindus hate Muslims. Yazidis are hated by Islamists. Sunnis hate Shiites. Many hate Muslims. This is the story we are told daily, and it is probably a true story.
One evening The Delhi Walla enters the home of Sarah Cohen in Jew Town, a neighborhood in Cochin. Ms Cohen is having chai with some fried tea snacks. Her ground-floor house is a short walk from Paradesi, the oldest functioning synagogue in India. In some ways, Ms Cohen is a greater monument than that Jewish temple. She is the oldest of the five surviving Hebrews of Jew Town. She is 93.
At this time of the day, Ms Cohen is watching a Malayalam soap opera on TV. She is seated beside Ms Jasmine, who has been looking after Ms Cohen for many years. And Ms Jasmine is a Muslim.
Ms Cohen makes her living through Sarah’s Embroidery Fancy Centre, a trinket shop adjacent to her house. Ms Jasmine looks after the store, too. Its walls are decked with Ms Cohen’s photographs that were taken at various points of her life—the black & white portraits appear as unreal as a myth. There are also carefully preserved visiting cards of foreign journalists who regularly came to meet Ms Cohen, especially after the exodus of Cochin’s Jewish population to Israel.
Also on display in the shop: the security pass of Ms Cohen’s husband, the late J.E. Cohen, given to him for an audience with the Israeli President Ezer Weizman during his visit to Jew Town in 1997.
Ms Jasmine talks of her husband. “He is out of town for a day,” she says. “He has been with Sarah Cohen since his childhood.” She then sits down beside Ms Cohen. Both are quiet. Nothing happens and, yet, so much is happening. It is a precious sight to look at a Jew and a Muslim creating a peaceful world between them. There is hope in the world.
Beyond Israel, Beyond West Asia, Beyond Europe
2. (Sarah Cohen)