Sarah Cohen, affectionately called ‘Sarah Aunty’ by everyone who has paid a visit to her quaint little Jew Town house, passed away on Friday following a minor fall and a hip injury, a few days shy of her 97th birthday.
Who was she?
Mrs. Sarah Cohen was the oldest living member of Kochi’s dwindling Paradesi Jew community.
The city has both Paradesi Jews (of foreign origin, but who settled in Kochi centuries ago) and Malabari Jews (Jews who came to India before the Paradesi Jews, and who have grown to resemble the local population greatly, whereas Paradesi Jews resemble Europeans more).
Many Jews have moved to Israel in the past 50 years, leaving a very small Jewish population in Kochi, of which Sarah was the oldest member.
Having lived in Jew Town, Mattancherry for decades, she became something of a celebrity in her later years.
She lived with her brother Shalom and husband Jacob, both of whom passed away several years ago.
Sarah opened a small business in the front rooms of her house, named ‘Sarah’s Hand Embroidery’. She made exquisite pieces, usually with some Jewish symbolism, which became very popular with tourists.
She and her husband had a long and happy married life, but no children. A Muslim man named Thaha Ibrahim has been caring for her for several years now, and has been running her business since she became too old to sew properly. He calls her ‘Amma,’ as she is the mother figure in his life.
An icon of her community
When she was younger and Kochi’s Jewish population was higher, Sarah would spend her evenings with friends, sometimes attending parties, and leading a fun social life.
As she grew older and the number of Jews on Jew Street dwindled, she spent her days in her shop, interacting with customers and tourists.
She became extremely popular among youngsters in Mattancherry, many of whom would sit and talk to her, take selfies, and make her laugh.
I was fortunate enough to visit her last year, but she was not very aware of what was happening around her due to old age. Nevertheless, she sat at her shop window and looked out at the world, never resigning herself to bed.
Her little green house with the Star of David on its windows and collage of photos documenting her life remains a shrine to this vibrant member of Kochi’s Jewish community, which now has only 2 remaining members in Jew Town.
She will be remembered as the ever smiling lady whose doors were always open to anyone who wanted to meet her. Her passing has left a gaping hole in Kochi’s Jewish community.
Image Credits : Google Images
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