Table of Contents
I Eastern Jewish History
II Ethiopian Jewish History
III Sub-Sahara African Jewish History
I Eastern Jewish History
Jewish presense in Afghanistan can be traced back to The 1100's. Many Jews fled there from Persia in The 1800's to flee from forced conversion in Meshad. Most have made aliyah since the creation of Israel.
Today most Indian Jews live in and around Bombay, particularly in Thane, a suburb 35 kilometers from the city. The community is composed of three distinct groups: the dominant Bene Israel, who believe themselves to be the descendants of the original settlers who came to India as early as 2,000 years ago; The Jews of Malabar, centered in Cochin, whose forefathers arrived in India from Europe and The Middle East as early as 1,000 years ago; and The Iraqi Jews, called "Baghdadis," who began settling in India at the end of The 18th Century.
The Indian Jewish community has shrunk considerably in recent years, primarily due to emigration. The central communal organization of Indian Jewry is The Council of Indian Jewry, which was established in 1978 in Bombay. There are a variety of other organizations, including The Zionist Association, B'nai B'rith, a Jewish Club in Bombay, Bikur Cholim, and two women's associations.
Myths surround the origins of the Jews of India, particularly the Bene Israel and the Jews of Cochin. The Bene Israel claim to have arrived in India in The 2nd Century B.C.E..
The Groups of Indian Jews
I Bene Israel
The first documented evidence of this community dates from The 17th Century. Isolated from the rest of Jewry, The Bene Israel adopted many Muslim and Hindu customs.
The Bene Israel began to move to Bombay in The Late 18th Century and built their first synagogue, Shaare Rachamim (Gates of Mercy), in 1796. In The Early 19th century, the Bene Israel numbered approximately 6,000 and peaked at 20,000 in 1948.
II Cochin Jewry
The Cochin community was divided into three distinct groups, Paradesi or "White Jews," "Black Jews," and Meshuhrarim or "Freedmen." These divisions were maintained until recent times by a rigid caste system.
The Paradesi are descended from a mixture of Jewish exiles from Cranganore and later Spain, The Netherlands, Aleppo, and Germany. Firm evidence of their presence dates back to around 1000 C.E., when the local Hindu leader granted certain privileges to Joseph Rabban, the leader of the community. The Paradesi in Cochin still have the copper tablets on which these privileges are inscribed.
The Black Jews, whose origins are less clear but are believed to precede those of The Paradesi (and may date back to antiquity), closely resemble their Indian neighbors and often bear biblical names.
The Meshuhrarim were manumitted slaves, whose offspring were affiliated with either The Paradesi or The Black Jews.
III Baghdadi Jews
The Baghdadi Jews first arrived from Iraq, Syria, and Iran around 1796, fleeing persecution in their native lands. The most prominent Baghdadi Jew was David Sasson, who established The Indian House of Sasson in 1832 and paved the way for the arrival of many other Iraqi Jews in India. Among the achievements of The Baghdadi Jews was the introduction of amba, a food made from pickled mango and curry, into the Iraqi diet, when they brought it back into Iraq. It is now a Middle Eastern food and The Iraqi Jews brought it with them to Israel and is just as Israeli as falafel.
Jewish merchants have had commercial ties with traders in Hong Kong for many centuries. A modern community, however, wasn't established until the first half of The 19th Century with the immigration of a number of families from Baghdad. The Sfardic settlers, among whom were The Sasson and Kaduri Families, centered community activities around their homes until The Ohel Leah Synagogue was consecrated in 1900. Prior to World War II, the community numbered only a few hundred. Jews made enormous contributions to the development of Hong Kong, particularly in the field of transportation. Hong Kong's development as a strategic trade and finance center has attracted tens of thousands of foreigners from The 1960's onward, among whom were many Jews. These Jews, primarily from The United States, Israel, The United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, revitalized the community.
Dutch Jews played an active role in the development of the so-called Spice Islands. In The 1850's there were at least 20 Jewish families of Dutch and German origin living in Jakarta and other parts of the country. Early attempts to establish a community failed. In successive years Jews from The Netherlands, Baghdad and Aden settled in Indonesia. By The 1920's there were several thousand Jews in the country and communities were established in Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and elsewhere. In The 1930's Jews fleeing The Nazis also came to Indonesia. Jews, particularly those with Dutch citizenship, suffered greatly during the Japanese occupation. After the war, and later, upon the country's independence, nearly all Jews left the country. A few Jewish families, all of Iraqi origin, live in Surabaya. They continue to maintain a small synagogue, but there is neither a rabbi nor a teacher. There are also individual Jews living in Jakarta.
In The 1950's, a Jewish community, primarily made up of American military personnel stationed in Taiwan, was established but dwindled when the American military personnel withdrew. The current community was established in The Mid 1970's by foreign businesspeople working on the island. Nearly all the Jewish residents live in Taipei, the capital. The majority of them are dispatched by multinational corporations or international organizations for a 2 or 3 year tour of duty. Others are employed in academia and government service. More than half of the community are American citizens, a quarter are Israelis, and the rest are from various other countries.
The first significant Jewish presence in Korea appeared during The Korean War from 1950-1953. Hundreds of Jews came as members of The American Army. Today most Jews are still part of the army. Other Jews have come to live and work.
Nearly all the Jews of Thailand live in Bangkok. The first permanent Jewish settlers arrived in The 1920's, having fled from Soviet Russia. Their number was bolstered in The 1930's when refugees from Central Europe made their way to Thailand. Most of these left the country at the end of World War II. However, in The 1950's and 1960's, a number of Jews settled in Thailand, and in 1966 a synagogue and community center were established. The Jews are a mixture of Sfaradim from Syria and Lebanon and Ashkenazim from Europe, The United States, and Shanghai. There is also an Israeli presence. Many Jews are involved in trade and production of jewelry and precious stones.
There are 3 syngagogues in Bangkok. One is Ashkenazic, one is Sfardic, and one is a Chabad House which primarily caters to Jewish backpackers. The Chabad House is noted for its communal Seders and other holiday observances which are often attended by hundreds of travelers from all over The World. Kosher food is available, and there are several kosher eateries including those attached to the synagogues.
Conversos came to The Philippines since at least The 16th Century, when the country was conquered by Spain. In the second half of The 19th century, Jewish traders arrived from France and other countries. They were followed by American Jews who came in the wake of the U.S. occupation of the country in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Shortly thereafter, many Jews arrived from Turkey and elsewhere in The Middle East. A number of Jewish refugees from Russia also found sanctuary in The Philippines after World War I. However, not until 1924 was the first synagogue erected in Manila. In the years leading up to World War II, several thousand Jews who escaped Nazi persecution in Europe were admitted to The Philippines, along with others who fled in advance of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. When the Japanese overran The Philippines, all Jews who were citizens of Allied countries were interned and subjected to great suffering. The synagogue was destroyed in the fighting to liberate the capital. At the end of the war, the community was reconstituted, but many of its members decided to emigrate. Today the Manila community includes a large number of temporary residents, including many Israelis.
The communal organization is The Jewish Association of The Philippines. A community synagogue, opened in 1983, contains a sanctuary, social hall, and classrooms for the Hebrew school. Services in the synagogue follow the Syrian-Sfaradi nusach. There is also a mikva at the synagouge. The rabbi also acts as a mohel and shochet. Religious services are also conducted on the large U.S. Air Force bases situated on the island.
About half of Japan's Jews live in Tokyo, while the remainder is spread among a number of other cities. Japan's modern opening to The Western World in The 19th Century attracted many Jews to the country. The first Jewish settlers arrived in The 1850s on the eve of The Meiji Restoration, which set Japan's course towards the status of a major world power. Small numbers of Jews from The United Kingdom, The United States, and Central and Eastern Europe made their homes in Japan (especially in Yokohama and Nagasaki). Persecution in The Czarist Pale of Settlement encouraged many Russian Jews to migrate to China, and some continued on to Japan. After World War I, several thousand Jews were living in Japan, with the largest community in Kobe. In 1941, Japanese Consul General in Kaunus, Lithuania, Senpo Sugihara, helped German and Polish Jews that had escaped to Lithuania escape Europe. He issued 5,000 Japanese transit visas to these Jews. For this, he is honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem by a tree in The Garden of The Righteous. By The Early 1970s, 1,000 Jews lived in Japan, the majority in Tokyo and Yokohama. In The 1970s and 1980s, there was an influx of gaijin (foreign workers), which consequently increased the number of Jews living in Japan.
Tokyo has a synagogue which has a kosher kitchen which provides take-out food and Shabbat meals. The community maintains a Hebrew School, and holds classes for adolescents. A cultural center operated by The Israeli Embassy serves the community and educates members of the general public about Israel and Judaism.
Jews from Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East first settled in Yangon (Rangoon) early in The 18th Century and established a Sfaradi community there. In 1896, they erected The Musameah Yeshua Synagogue on land donated by the government. By the outbreak of World War II, there were over 2,000 Jews in the country. The great majority fled in advance of the Japanese assault and were evacuated to The United Kingdom, India and a number of other countries. Only a small number returned after the country was liberated. Over the years, due to emigration and assimilation, the remaining Jewish population dwindled, and today the community is on the verge of extinction.
The Chinese have had contacts with traveling Jewish merchants since The 8th Century. By The 12th Century, a considerable number of Jews had made their homes in the city of Kaifeng, in a far Western region of the country. At least one synagogue, was constructed. The one that is known of was constructed in 1163. The community was active for about eight centuries. As recently as The 19th Century, some Chinese Jews were practicing Jewish rituals, including Torah reading. The community has disintegrated through assimilation and the synagogue has fell into decay.
In The Late 19th Century, Russian Jewish communities were founded in Harbin, Tientsin, and elsewhere. In the early years of The 20th Century, Jews fleeing pogroms in The Pale of Settlement and demobilized soldiers from The Russo-Japanese War joined them, raising the Jewish population of Harbin to approximately 8,000 by 1908. The Russian Revolution of 1917 practically doubled the size of the community and served as a stimulus to Zionist activism. Most of the Russian Jews remaining at the end of World War II emigrated to The West. Some were repatriated, both voluntarily and involuntarily, to The Soviet Union.
The development of the port city of Shanghai as a Jewish center parallels that of Hong Kong. Sfaradi families from Baghdad, Bombay, and Cairo, including The Kaduris, Sassons, and Harduns, established a communal structure in Shanghai in The 19th Century.
Today there are no Jewish communal structures in China, and the Jews who live there are thought to be extremely few. There is a small Jewish museum in Kaifang. Relics of the Jewish presence in China can be seen elsewhere, particularly in Shanghai.
A Jewish community has existed in Singapore for more than 150 years. The first Jews to settle there were merchants from Baghdad. These Iraqi Jews set the Sfardic tone of Jewish life that continues to this day. The first synagogue was erected in 1878. The early immigrants from Iraq were later joined by Jews from India and Ashkenazim from Central Europe. In the beginning of World War II, there were 5,000 Jews in Singapore, and they suffered great hardship during the Japanese occupation. Many Jews emigrated after the liberation. Today, however, the city is at least the temporary home to several hundred Israelis and other foreign Jews who have found work on the island. Sfaradim account for about 90% of the permanent residents.
The Jewish Welfare Board represents the community. There are two Sfardic synagogues, but only one is used on a regular basis. Another congregation (Ashknenazic), holds services but does not have its own building. There is one resident rabbi and a Hebrew School. Kosher food is available, and there is a mikva and a cemetery. The community center, where the Hebrew School is located, is a focus of cultural life. The Jewish Welfare Board also operates an old-age home.
In 1955, when Sinapore was granted partial independence, a Jew, David Saul Marshall, was appointed Singapore's first chief minister. Marshall previously served as president of The Jewish Community. However, he resigned in 1956 when England refused to grant full independence. When Singapore did gain independence, he was elected to its legislature and later served in its foreign ministry as ambassador to several European countries.
II Ethiopian Jewish History
There is a legend that while King Solomon was King of Israel and he married The Queen of Sheba, they had a son named Menelik. The legend says that Menelik and other Jews were driven out of Jerusalem, up The Nile River to Ethiopia. However, Ethiopian Jews are most likely descended from The Lost Tribe of Dan. It is also believed by some people that they adopted Jewish beliefs around The 2nd and 3rd Centuries C.E.. After being in Ethiopia for a while, their skin changed from white to black, therefore becoming black Jews. They still have the same features as Semitic Jews but have black skin. For a while, they thought they were the only Jews in the whole World. The community calls itself Beta Israel, but Ethiopian Jews are also often referred to as Falashas, which means "strangers" or "immigrants" in the Ge'ez tongue, which is the classical literary and ecclesiastical language of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Jews were eventually discovered by white Jews. Ethiopian Judaism was based on The Torah but did not include later rabbinic laws and commentaries, which never reached Ethiopia. Still, in The 16th Century, Radbaz, an Egyptian rabbi, recognized the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jewry.
In The 20th Century, Israeli and Jewish organizations provided help in education and welfare and later lobbied for Ethiopian Jews' right of emigration. In 1975, The Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognized them as Jews and ruled that they could immigrate to Israel. In 1984 and 1985, during The Ethiopian Civil War, The Mengistu Government agreed to allow Israel to airlift the community to Israel by way of Sudan. At that time, about 10,000 Ethiopian Jews went to Israel at that time in Operation Moses which airlifted them from camps in Sudan. Media leaks led The Sudanese Government to withdraw its cooperation, ending Operation Moses and stranding some 15,000 Jews. Only in 1991, when The Ethiopian Government was on the verge of collapse, did Israel airlift 14,163 more Ethiopian Jews in Operation Solomon. However, a group of them called Falash Mura were left behind because their ancestors converted to Christianity. They are now allowed to come to Israel if they convert back to Judaism. Since 1948, a total of 50,700 Ethiopian Jews have made aliyah to Israel. Ethiopian Jews continue to immigrate to Israel and those remaining in Ethiopia are coming to Israel slowly and slowly.
The religious life of the remaining Jews in Ethiopia is concentrated in Addis Ababa, where most of those awaiting eventual repatriation to Israel live. Within a central compound are located a synagogue, a vocational training center, and other facilities. In addition to Ethiopian Jews, there are also several dozen Adenite Jews residing in the capital. They have their own synagogue and burial ground, which is also used by The Falash Mura. There are still several hundred Jews living in rural villages in Gondar.
III Sub-Sahara African Jewish History
Jews have settled all over Sub-Sahara Africa from Europe. A huge amount settled in South Africa to escape Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe. Yemenite Jews have also lived in Ethiopia but they left during the Italian occupation. Many Israelis also live in Sub-Sahara Africa for the Israeli Embassies there. Sub-Sahara African Jews have and are continuing to make aliyah to Israel. Some also leave South Africa to go to other English speaking countries.
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