Sarah Cohen, who lived for 96 years in a little green house in Mattanchery’s Jew Town in Kochi, passed away on Friday at 1.30 pm. She was the oldest and one of the last remaining Jewish persons living in Mattancherry, that was once thickly populated by the community ever since an expelled group from Iberia came to Kochi more than 500 years ago.
“Her caretaker Thaha Ibrahim called to tell me about Sarah aunty’s death. She was 96, so there were age-related ailments,” says Sarath Kottikkal, who has made a documentary on Sarah, Thaha and Sarah's young friend, Thoufeen. “They share a rare bond, people from different communities coming together, taking care of each other,” he adds. Then there is Seli too, who cooks for Sarah.
Sarah’s family is away, scattered in Israel, the US and Australia. Her husband Jacob Cohen, a lawyer, passed away years ago. The couple had no children.
“The relatives would visit every year or so. I have seen her get emotional when they do. They – the Jews – had such a celebrated life here years ago. They are the ones who brought electricity to Kochi. But now, their numbers have dwindled into a handful,” says Sarath.
He doesn’t know if Sarah had a job as a young woman, but in her later years, she sewed the Kippa – religious cap worn by Jews – and embroidered them. She’d sell it in ‘Sarah’s Hand Embroidery’ shop with Thaha’s help.
Sarah was often written about, and visited by tourists coming to see the Jewish Synagogue in Mattancherry, built in 1568. In April this year, the media wrote about Sarah when she went to vote for the Lok Sabha elections, adamant that she wouldn’t miss it. Thaha was then quoted as saying he has never seen her miss any elections in all the 36 years that he'd known her, except once when the date fell on a Saturday, the Sabbath day for Jews.