|The Weizmans are welcomed by Sammy Hallegua|
Thursday, January 2, 1997 was a big, big day in Jew Town, Mattancherry. The flamboyant, Middle Eastern war hero and President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, landed in Cochin to visit the Paradesi Synagogue.
Indo-Israeli ties were beginning to warm after diplomatic relations were established in 1992 and Weizman's 7-day India visit, at the head of a 24-member delegation was intended to cement these ties.
Synagogue caretaker K. J. Joy recalls that there were about 5,000 security guards and police deployed in the narrow streets around Jew Town on the day of the visit. The security men also marched to and fro in the synagogue and Joy's biggest concern was the possible damage to the antique blue porcelain tiles by the heavy boots of all the president's men.
|A gift for the First Lady|
And Weizman, in reply, hailed Cochin as a "symbol of the persistence of Judaism and of aliyah...I pay tribute to India for taking care of the Jews and their places of worship..." Speaking in both Hebrew and English, Weizman said: "May you all live happily ever after in all the world and in India." A video recording made on the
|A 'battlefield' gift for the President|
Standing alongside him was Bezalel Eliyahu, who emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s from the small Kerala village of Chennamangalam and was instrumental in turning Israel into one of the major flower exporters to Europe. (Bezalel has been hailed as the man who made the Israeli desert bloom and was showered with awards by the Israeli Government).
Gifts given to the Weizmans included a carved, wooden jewellery box and a sculpture inside a glass case depicting the famous scene from the Mahabaratha with Krishna as the charioteer taking Arjuna into battle. Weizman then signed the visitor's book.
It was also a sentimental journey for the Israeli president, who served in India as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot, operating out of the Yehlanka air base near Bangalore. He told high-ranking Indian officers, who gathered to give him a spectacular welcome at the base, about his career in the RAF.
|"May you all live happily ever after"|
"Those of us from Palestine, as it was then called, were considered more native than you in India and it took a long time to get into British flying school. After training in what was then-Rhodesia and later Egypt, I volunteered to fly a Thunderbolt in the hope of catching the tail end of the war in Burma ... Unfortunately, after about half a year of training in Bangalore they took the war away from us."
(In an interview, he recalled with nostalgia his weekly Sabbath visits to some Jewish homes in Bangalore. An Indian defence-related website (http://www.indiadefence.com/aero1.HTM) reported: "...these visits tended to be noticeably more to one family than the others and everyone was left guessing which family it was and, more importantly, why. All that could be gathered was that the President was indeed unmarried at the time!"). Incidentally, the Yehlanka air strip was built by Italian prisoners of war incarcerated in India.
|Signing the synagogue's Visitors' Book|
|Jew Town residents in the synagogue|
His wife Reuma Schwartz was the sister of Ruth Dayan, wife of former Defence and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. Weizman died April 24, 2005, at his home in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast, at the age of 80.
Weizman wrote three acclaimed books: On Eagles' Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force (1975); The Battle for Peace (1981); Ruth, Sof (2002) (Hebrew)
|Windows in Jew Town festooned with Indian and Israeli flags to mark the historic visit.|
Pictures: Courtesy - Kenny Salem of Mattancherry