Monday, April 20, 2009

Jews in Singapore and Cambodia

I just discovered this about the playwright Tom Stoppard:

Born Tomáš Straussler in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, Stoppard fled to Singapore with other Jews on 15 March 1939, the day that the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1941, the family was evacuated to Darjeeling, India, to escape the Japanese invasion of Singapore. His father, Eugene Straussler, remained behind as a British army volunteer, and died in a Japanese prison camp after capture. From wikipedia.

I wondered how many Jews fled to Singapore during the Second World War and found this on

"The first Jews to settle there were of Baghdadi origin, mainly from India, who migrated to Singapore when Sir Stamford Raffles established Singapore as a trading post in Singapore in 1819, to find new opportunities."

"An interesting and influential figure at the turn of the century was Sir Manasseh Meyer. A rich Jew (who was then probably the wealthiest in the Far East), he was knighted by Queen Victoria for his part in raising the cultural level of the Singapore territory." [Meyer Road is still one of the priciest streets in Singapore].

"Today, there are just over 300 hundred local Jews left, together with the many expatriates and foreign workers, the Singapore Jewish community holds steady at approximately 1000. Both synagogues are active. Despite the small numbers, our community has much to offer her members; a good Jewish education for the youth, weekly discussions, up to the minute gossip and Sabbath luncheons and dinners, which will help to keep the spark burning for generations to come."

As well, Singapore's first Chief Minister, David Marshall was a Jew.

I could not find anything about the first Jews who arrived in Cambodia. There must have been as I am sure the Jewish diaspora, like the Chinese, went all over the world. There must have been Jews who came to Cambodia during French rule. In fact, wikipedia notes "the first Jews to visit Vietnam likely arrived following the French colonization of the country in the latter half of the 19th century." History of Jews in Vietnam.

I did come across this blog, whose writer had met Adollah, former name Hanh Nen, who says that 20-plus years ago, "God told him that he had to choose between Judaism and evil. He chose Judaism, and was told that he would found a Jewish community in Cambodia....Adollah lives in Phnom Penh, maybe ten minutes away from the city center. He does not leave his house very often; God has instructed him only to eat kosher foods, and kosher food is hard to find in Cambodia. I met his son Moses ("My dad calls me Moses, but at school I am Somnang")". There are photos of Adollah on the blog.

And in 2007: "At the behest of The Cambodia Daily publisher Bernard Krisher and at their own expenses-three Lubavitchers landed in Phnom Penh for Cambodia's first-ever organized service for Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the holiest of all Jewish holidays."

“We have a responsibility to educate our brothers. How are we supposed to rectify the world if we stay within the confines of a synagogue?” Saadya Notik, a 25 year old rabbi from Brooklyn, NY, asked. The report Rabbis Do Work of 'Repairing World' in Cambodia also notes:

"One curious Cambodian sat in the back row for Friday's service, with a makeshift yarmulke, or head covering, fashioned from a handkerchief. Sok Sidon, 23, works as a peace trainer for the Khmer Youth Association and said he came, simply, for the exposure to new culture. He said he thought it would be a learning experience that could help him figure out “how to keep ourselves at peace.” Sok Sidon said he is looking forward to traveling to Svay Rieng province come October to celebrate Pchum Ben, the Buddhist Festival of the Dead.

Click this link for more updated news on the [expatriate]Jews of Cambodia : " I met a greater number of my people, perhaps forty of them, at a Hanukkah party in early December. Menorahs were lit, latkes were eaten, and dreidels were spun. Fortunately, no Mainschewitz was to be found anywhere. There were Americans, Belgians, Poles, Frenchmen (and women), and even a Kiwi!"

There was also this story I found: "There are many Jews in the kingdom of China: they are the ones who built, in Cambodia, the city of Angkor which, as I said, was discovered in 1570. They abandoned it when they emigrated to China, according to what the Jews from the East Indies told me when, passing through there, I conversed with them about that matter." Hahahahaha! From "Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog".

This reminds me of the Chinese who claim they invented golf.

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