Rachel Benoy Malakhi, a Jewish woman of Indian origin, and Richard Zachary Rowe, who belongs to the community in Indiana, United States, got married under a chuppah in the presence of their friends and family at a resort in Kochi.
Rachel is a data scientist working in the US, whereas Zachary is an aerospace engineer. They met each other in the US about four years ago.
Rachel's family is one of the very few Jewish families settled in Kochi. There are about 25 Kochi Jews in the city today – but the community once had 3,000 members. The wedding, therefore, was significant in more ways than one.
The last such wedding happened in 2008, when a Jewish man from Kochi married a woman from Mumbai at the Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry. Mattanchery, a town in Kochi that was occupied by the Portuguese in the 1500s, is dotted with synagogues and is rich in Jewish cultural history.
What a Jewish Wedding Looks Like
Speaking about the wedding and the rituals involved, Rachel's mother Manjusha Emmanuel told The Quint:
"One of the main rituals in the ceremony is the chuppah itself. As part of our culture, we're supposed to get married under that. Then comes the wedding vows – it is a document that is sent from Israel, and the couple's parents must also sign it."
Manjusha is a practising psychologist based out of Kochi, and her husband Benoy Malakhi is a retired police official. She added: "The ceremonies of Jewish people may vary from place to place. In Kochi, we dip our rings in a glass of wine before getting married – and these rings will carry the couple's names and the date of wedding."
The ceremony, which is generally about 40 minutes long, also involves reading out Old Hebrew verses and singing songs, she said. Rabbi Aryeal Tsion, who travelled all the way from Israel for the wedding, married the couple.
But there was also some deviation from tradition – Rachel's is the first Jewish wedding in Kochi that did not take place in a synagogue. Generally, weddings within the community take place at the Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry.
"The synagogue is a heritage site. Everything in the synagogue must be preserved well. So, hosting 300 people there might have been difficult. Moreover, we have friends in every community, even though we're a minority. They are all dear to us. And there might be entry restrictions in the synagogue. That's why we decided to host it elsewhere," Manjusha said.
Rachel and her family were in the United Kingdom for years. A while ago, her parents and her younger sister moved back to Kochi, while she moved to the US for higher studies.
"Rachel wanted her wedding to happen in Kochi. Kochi is our home, no matter what. And the Jewish community here is one of the oldest in India. It was her decision to keep the tradition going," Manjusha said.
In fact, the wedding was actually supposed to happen in 2021, but it was postponed due to COVID. "Due to the restrictions then, it wasn't easy to travel. There was a ceremony in the US as well, for Zach's family." Manjusha also said that it was Zachary's first visit to Kerala.