January 16, 2019

In Myanmar, a Jewish Community Holds On

“There was a Hanukkah party last month in this former capital city and enough guests — over 200 — to surprise an uninvited tourist.

“They’re no Jews here anymore,” the tourist proclaims, confused about the celebration at Yangon’s regal Chatrium Hotel.

“Yes there are,” replies Ari Solomon, a guest from Australia.

“No, they said there are 10 families,” the tourist responds.

“Well, that’s not nothing – that’s 10 families,” Solomon counters. “That’s a lot. You go back to my hometown, Calcutta, and there are lucky to be 16 Jews, let alone 10 families.”

Indeed, Myanmar’s Jewish community has dwindled to about 20 people. Most of the Jews had fled when Japan invaded the country in World War II, as the Axis power distrusted them for their perceived political alignment with the British. The majority who remained left in the mid-1960s, when the new regime nationalized businesses as part of a socialist agenda that would soon run the country into the ground.

Still, Sammy Samuels, 38, the de facto leader of this Southeast Asian nation’s remaining Jewish community, has held out hope for its future, if not a revival. In recent years his father, Moses, had maintained the community, opening the door of Yangon’s sole synagogue daily in the hopes of welcoming tourists.”

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