Review: The Blue Butterfly of Cochin

The Blue Butterfly of Cochin

by Ariana Mizrahi, illustrated by Siona Benjamin

Kalaniot Books, 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Doreen Robinson

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The Blue Butterfly of Cochin
tells the story of a Jewish girl named Leah who lives in the ancient city of Cochin, India. Leah loves her city and its special synagogue, which has two bimahs. After Shabbat services, Leah tells the other children stories. Even the blue butterflies listen! In an exchange with a bright blue butterfly, we learn that Leah is sad that the Jews of Cochin have decided to leave India. But at the same time, she’s excited to move to Israel. The butterfly assures her that Cochin will always be with her – in her heart and in her stories. Even though Leah and her family settle in a moshav in Israel, there are things she still misses about Cochin. A friendly neighbor named Shifra takes Leah to a nearby olive grove where a blue butterfly lands on her shoulder. That’s when Leah realizes that India will be a part of her forever.

The illustrations are rich and vibrant and reflect what Cochin Jews look like in skin tone and dress. Jewish representation is shown in the illustrations, with exceptional detail given to the synagogue.

Even though Leah’s story is a work of fiction, the details are derived from the author’s research with the Indian Jewish Heritage Center and the Cochin Jewish Heritage Center. A section of back matter on the Jews of Cochin details the history of Cochini Jews in the southwestern Malabar coast, known as Malabari Jews, during the time of King Solomon. Fast-forward to the 1950s and 2,000 members of their community decided to emigrate to Israel. The transition from merchant to farmer wasn’t easy, but they managed to make it work. They were able to keep their unique Jewish traditions and even built a replica of their Kadavumbagam Synagogue in Israel.

This story combines Jewish pride with a love of two lands, India and Israel. The glossary is especially useful for the Indian words that are incorporated into the story. I think Jewish and non-Jewish readers will benefit from reading this story and learning about this unique community of Jews from India.

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Reviewer Doreen Robinson is a journalist and editor for community newspapers. As a first-generation American, she's proud of her Israeli heritage. Her goal is to write stories for children that spread Jewish joy. Am Yisrael Chai!