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ISJM Receives Koret Foundation Funding for Indian Synagogue
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) The International Survey of Jewish Monuments is pleased to announce the receipt of a grant from the Koret Foundation to assist in planning efforts to protect and preserve the historic synagogue of Parur, Kerala, India.

ISJM member Jay A. Waronker, an architect from Atlanta and Ithaca, NY, is working on behalf of the Association of Kerala Jews in India to initiate a formal effort to restore the very derelict synagogue of Parur, located an hour away from Kochi (Cochin). According to the building's inscription, the synagogue was built in 1616, and for many years it served the local Jewish community before all immigrated mostly to Israel beginning in the 1950s.

According to Waronker, “The now-closed synagogue complex consists of a series of parts linked axially by a gatehouse, walled outdoor spaces, covered passageways, and a succession of rooms. The result is a highly dramatic and memorable spatial experience. The synagogue of Parur was built in the traditional style of Kerala that combines whitewashed chunam (polished lime) over laterite (a soft reddish-brown local stone) walls, timber framing, deep-eaved roofs covered with terra-cotta tiles, wooden latticed screens, and large shuttered windows. Drawing from the vernacular design of the region, the influences of the Portuguese and Dutch imperialists, Hindu and other religious building practices, (and perhaps even descriptions of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem), the Parur synagogue then combines Jewish liturgical elements resulting in a distinct approach to synagogue architecture.”

Waronker has spent several years documenting the thirty-four synagogues throughout India, including the seven found in various states of preservation and function in Kerala, and his work and watercolor renderings of the buildings have been well published and exhibited. An essay detailing the architecture of the synagogue in Parur can be found in the 2009 Indo-Judaic Studies Journal.

A preservation plan for the building was drawn two years ago by Indian conservation firm Thampy and Thampy. This same firm beautifully restored the nearby synagogue of Chennamangalam for Kerala office of the Indian Department of Archeology a few years ago. But until issues concerning project management, subsequent ownership, and long-term care and access to the building are resolved, it is premature to initiate work. Still, in anticipation of a successful outcome to Waronker’s work in India this summer, ISJM and the Association of Kerala Jews welcome pledges of funding support for restoration work.

For those interested in the project, including how they can assist, please contact Waronker at or ISJM.

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