The Jewish Gandhi of Cochin

The ‘Jewish Gandhi’ of Cochin
by Bala Menon, Dr. Essie Sassoon

“A unique subject described in an engaging and captivating way!”

The ‘Jewish Gandhi’ of Cochin is a biography of Abraham Barak Salem, an Indian nationalist and Zionist.

Anti-semitism has roots in many societies and these were deeply planted in southern India in the middle of the 20th century. Abraham Barak Salem, a lawyer practicing in the Kerala region had been a life-long adherent of the principles of the renowned Mahatma Gandhi who taught his followers the rule of non-violent disobedience.

Salem was a leading member of the Cochin Jewish community, as well as a member of the Indian National Congress which passed a resolution in the 1940s calling for complete independence from the Raj, the British empire.

Abraham Salem battled for his social community, a group of Jews who had been ostracized from full participation in synagogue affairs in the region for decades. The struggle encompassed the intransigence of the Indian caste system as well as including the more idealistic goal of complete religious and social freedoms in his community.

The man campaigned for social equality and fairer legal applications for his people in many ways, through pamphleteering, speeches, diaries and lecturing he promoted the aliyah, the return of his community members to Israel. His cause reached its success in the 1950s when a mass Aliyah of Cochin Jews emigrated to Israel.

Salem remained behind in Kerala continuing his pacifist campaign for the equality and greater freedom and liberty of the Cochin Jewish community that remained there in southern India. Salem died in 1967.


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