COCHIN, India - Local authorities in the southern Indian state of Kerala have decided to renovate one of the oldest synagogues in the region as part of a larger heritage conservation and tourism development project, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The Parur synagogue, located in the village of North Paravur, approximately 18 km. north of Cochin, dates to the early 17th century. It was believed to have been built on the ruins of a previous synagogue from the 12th century.
Along with other Jewish houses of worship, the Parur shul served greater Cochin's 3,000 Jews until most moved to Israel after the establishment of the state. Fewer than 35 Jews remain in the region.
"I am happy to inform you that the restoration work on Parur synagogue will commence soon," Dr. Venu V. Ias, the Kerala district government's secretary of tourism, told the Post. "The Parur synagogue is one of the first monuments to be taken up for restoration under the project."
Working together with the local archaeology department, as well as other government bodies and technical agencies, Ias plans to restore local monuments deemed of historical significance.
The present owners of the synagogue compound have agreed to transfer it to government control, and work is slated to begin in the coming weeks, after the transfer of title is complete, he said.
Funds for the restoration will come from the government of Kerala and India's Tourism Ministry.
Hebrew University anthropologist Dr. Shalva Weil, a world-renowned specialist on Indian Jewry, called the Parur synagogue "an architectural gem and well worth preservation."
In an interview with the Post, she praised the Kerala authorities, saying they "have embarked upon an ambitious conservation project of various historical and archaeological sites. The plan is excellent and they have not forgotten the Jews, who played such an important role in Kerala."
Marian Scheuer Sofaer, an American activist who oversaw the installation of an exhibition on Jewish life in one of Cochin's former synagogues, expressed delight at the news of the Parur restoration project.
"This is an opportunity to educate India's diverse communities about the Jews who lived among them in harmony for many centuries," she said, adding that "the enigmatic, intriguing synagogue in Parur could bring more Jewish tourists into the countryside from Cochin, and will bring thousands of Indian tourists into a synagogue for the first time."