History of the Jews in Burma

History of the Jews in Burma

The first recorded Jew in the country was Solomon Gabirol, who served as a commander in the army of King Aungpaya in the 18th century. [ [http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/2912 Secret Yangon II: The Lost Tribe: ThingsAsian ] ]

In the 19th century, Jewish merchants from India began establishing sizable communities in Rangoon and Mandalay. This included Baghdadi Jews, Cochin Jews, and the Bene Israel. Under British rule, the local Jewish communiy prospered with small businesses, and trading in cotton and rice. [McDonald-Gibson, Charlotte "Myanmar Jews count on tourism" Globe and Mail 12/02/2006 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061202.SYNAGOGUE02/TPStory/specialTravel] With the Japanese invasion in 1942, many Jews fled to India. Though the Japanese were allies of the Nazis, they did not have any particular antipathy towards the Jews. At the same time, they viewed the local Jews with suspicion as a pro-British and a "European" group. Following naitonalization of businesses in the 1960s, the community suffered further decline, with many members moving to other countries. [Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002] The country's last rabbi left in 1969.

As of 2002, only 20 Jews remained in Yangon, the capital city. Most Burmese Jews have immigrated to Israel. [Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002] The local Jews use the Musmeah Yeshua synagogue, but it rarely draws the required quorum of men for a full religious service. Often, employees of the Israeli embassy help synagogue keeper Moses Samuel maintain regular service.

In the north of Burma, on the Indian border, the Mizo people, who are ethnically descended from Tibet have taken on the belief that they descend from the lost tribe of Menashe, based on certain traditions shared with Judaism. Those who have converted intend to immigrate to Israel. Many have embraced Orthodox Judaism and have settled in Judea, Samaria, and Gush Katif. They are known as the Bnei Menashe.

Burma is the first Asian nation to recognize Israel and maintains diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Israel opened its first diplomatic mission in Yangon in 1953, and in 1957 it became an embassy. Both nations shared a socialist outlook in their early years and held extensive contacts between their respective leaders. [ Freedman Cerna, Ruth "Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma" P. 122]


Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma" Lexington Books, 2007

External links

* [http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3456045,00.html Myanmar's Jews live in fear; Ynetnews; October 3, 2007]
* [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061202.SYNAGOGUE02/TPStory/specialTravel Myanmar Jews count on tourism; globeandmail.com; December 2, 2006]
* [http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/reg.burma/archives/199511/msg00200.html Burma Last Jews Struggling to Preserve Synagogue; BurmaNet News; November 27, 1995]
* Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002

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