His connection with the Jewish community in his homeland had deepened when he decided to do his academic research on Cochin Jewish cuisine.
A Muslim chef in Dubai, who is also a Hebrew calligrapher, couldn’t stop thinking about all the opportunities that the historic UAE-Israel peace accord have opened up for him. He can now easily fly to Tel Aviv, host Hebrew calligraphy exhibitions in the UAE by collaborating with Israeli artists – and even serve up kosher food.
Thoufeek Zakriya’s life as a friend of the Cochin Jewish community, a calligrapher, historian and an award-winning chef was featured in a documentary titled Sarah Thaha Thoufeek. He had expected to fly to Israel for the documentary premiere by taking the longer route from his homeland, but his busy schedule got in the way.
Though Thoufeek missed his film screening at the Indian Embassy in Israel in March, he is deeply awed by the peace deal that the UAE and Israel recently signed.
His connection with the Jewish community in his homeland had deepened when he decided to do his academic research on Cochin Jewish cuisine while completing his hospitality course.
“The oldest Jew in India during the time, the late Sarah Cohen, who chose to stay back in India without migrating to Israel, became my mentor. She introduced me to all those who came to visit her from Israel, often showing them my calligraphy works,” he said.
Thoufeek’s love for Hebrew dates back to his school days, when he stumbled upon a Hebrew text at a second-hand bookshop.
“I began copying the text not knowing how it was read or what it meant. With the help of the Internet, I self-learnt Hebrew and slowly began understanding the language. This also helped me connect to the diminishing community of Jews in Cochin,” he said.
‘Happy to be in the UAE’
He has also been featured among 100 artists in the book, Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts?: 100 Perspectives. “I am glad that an event, never expected to happen, is now unfolding in front of our eyes and I am happy to be in the UAE to witness it,” said Thoufeek.
“Since my interest is particularly in Jewish culture, food and language, I feel this peace accord has been signed just for me. I am looking forward to the collaborations in art and treating people with kosher food,” said the chef who has been serving in the UAE for the last six years.
With no professional help, Thoufeek has mastered the calligraphy of Hebrew, Arabic, Syrian, Samaritan, Aramaic, Sanskrit and English.
The self-taught calligrapher recently discovered an error in the ancient Hebrew epigraph (Dedicatory tablet) of Parur synagogue, an achievement he is proud of.
“What started off as childish curiosity is currently driving my life. Most of my time is spent on collecting ancient texts, speaking to people with similar interests and helping Jewish people trace their ancestry,” he said, adding that he made his first direct phone call to Israel on the day the first flight from Tel Aviv landed in Abu Dhabi.
Thoufeek’s “Scroll of Peace” was exhibited in Greece last year and was donated to the Indian Embassy in Greece. He also conducted a Hebrew calligraphy exhibition and presented a paper on Exploring Hebraic and Judaic Literary Treasures of Jews of Malabar at the international symposium, Shirei Hodu: Celebrating the Jewish Saga of India, in 2017.
Thoufeek is hopeful that he will be able to do a Hebrew exhibition at the Abrahamic House being built in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a dream and most of my dreams have come true. All things life gave me were out of my reach at one point in time. Maybe this too will happen,” he said.
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