A Jew in Singapore

I recently had the privilege to travel to the country of Singapore, a land that is the quintessential melting pot. The country is rich with culture influenced by China, India, Great Britain, Australia, and the Middle East. I walked from neighborhood to neighborhood, soaking in the local culture-which of course is so diverse, each block even smells different. There is Little India, Chinatown, colonial sections Clark and Boat Quay, and the endless rows of sky scraper after sky scraper marking this ever evolving land that became an independent country in 1965. 

I wondered what is it to be a Jew in a land with such melted culture. I took a cab to Maghain Aboth, the oldest standing synagogue in the Far East, built in the late 1880s. I arrived at a gate, proclaiming, “I’m a nice Jewish girl from the States. May I please see the synagogue?” After a thorough check of my passport, I was allowed into the complex, consisting of the old synagogue and the Jewish welfare building, donated by a wealthy philanthropist in recent years. There is a kosher restaurant, a day camp, a youth group, and much of what you’d see at a shul here in St. Louis. And with a warm smile from the security guard, I was invited back for Shabbat dinner.

The synagogue is what you’d expect, though much smaller. The Jewish community in Singapore consists of 1,000 Jews, explained the security guard, and the Jews of Singapore all pray in just the small synagogue I saw, and one other small synagogue built a few miles from this location. Unbelievable!

OyMG - Singapore Synagogue InsideThe Jews of Singapore came shortly after Thomas Raffles, father of the Singapore colony, in the early 1800s to find new opportunities in the trading post of Singapore. They came from India and were of Baghdadi decent, the Jewish Welfare Board explains. The original synagogue no longer exists, but Maghain Aboth was built shortly after the arrival Jews to Singapore. Many of the local Jews left after World War II, as many Jews were placed in internment camps by the Japanese during their occupation of Singapore. However, as Singapore’s trade opportunities and wealth have grown in recent decades, the number of Jews living in Singapore has increased.

And in true Singaporean style-the synagogue (remember it was built in the 1880s) is built on the same block as a Catholic church, a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple. Walking out of the synagogue I was once again reminded of example of tolerance and acceptance that is Singapore.

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1 Comment

  1. Lee kee tan

    I am a Singaporean and have always greatly admire the Jewish race. My primary school teacher in Singapore was Miss Manessah and she was always addressed thus due to the great respect and honour we gave her. Unfortunately she passed away the year after she taught. I also worked as an adult with another popular and famous Jewish Singaprean, Dr Yayha Cohen

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