“Ruby Of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers”

RUBY OF COCHIN: AN INDIAN JEWISH WOAAAN REMEMBERS by Ruby Daniel and Barbara C. Johnson [The Jewish Publication Society], $29.95

A collaborative effort between anthropologist Barbara Johnson and kibbutznik Ruby Daniel, this memoir recounts Daniel’s childhood and young adulthood in “Jew Town” of Cochin, India as well as Daniel’s post-1951 experiences on kibbutz Neot Mordechai—home of Naot sandals. (Virtually every member of Daniel’s childhood community made aliyah.) Written in Daniel’s voice—complete with idiomatic features of southern Indian English—her memories include the rich stories she was told as a little girl by her grandparents about 19th century “Jew Town,” the street in Cochin where her ancestors settled and built three synagogues.

Once in Israel, Daniel is shocked to be the only observer of kashrut in a secular kibbutz. She also struggles against unexpected discrimination—she is repeatedly passed over for a chance to attend cooking school while Ashkenazi women with less seniority were sent in her place. Daniels reveals troubling comparisons between Israel’s racism and India’s caste system and “Jew Town’s” own conflicts between “white Jews” and “black Jews.” Ruby of Cochin is a powerful and important reminder (to American Ashkenazi Jews) that our tribe is far from homogenous.