Jewish Heritage Tour -

Brief History

Jewish life in Burma today is quite different from what it was during colonial times, which lasted until World War II.  Before the war, it still was the case that “the sun never set” on the British Empire, including in Southeast Asia. Jewish merchants, who migrated originally to Burma in the late 1800s, served as a natural conduit between the British colonial rulers and the export–import community abroad. The Jewish community of approximately 2,500 people was a respected presence in business and a valued part of local society. During this “Golden Age,” Jewish influence within the government and society as a whole grew rapidly.

Jews were incorporated into the life of the country and played a prominent part in various fields. In tropical Rangoon, Jews owned ice factories and bottling plants. Some dealt in textiles and timber, while others were customs officials and traders. Jews held a designated seat on the Rangoon Municipal Committee. The Jewish community in Burma was so influential, in fact, that in the first years of the century, Rangoon and the smaller city of Bassein had Jewish mayors, and Judah Ezekiel Street in downtown Rangoon was named to honor a Jew. The Sofaer family donated the iron gates to the Rangoon Zoo, and another Jew, Mordechai Isaac Cohen, donated the beautiful cast-iron bandstand in Bandoola Square. Both are still standing tall today.

Israeli P.M David Ben Gurion dressed in Burmese National Costume during his visit to Rangoon Burmese P.M U NU greeted crowd during Motorcade in Tel-Aviv

In the center of downtown Rangoon stood Musmeah Yeshua, the grand synagogue with its soaring ceiling and graceful columns. Musmeah Yeshua, one of 188 sites on the list of Yangon Heritage Buildings, was constructed in the 1890s. The Jewish cemetery, with more than 600 gravestones, and the synagogue with its 126 silver sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) and Jewish school for over 200 students, proclaimed Jewish affluence and comfort in this lush land.

As Jewish wealth grew in those early days, Jewish philanthropy grew as well. The community donated large sums for local schools, libraries, hospitals, and helped local Burmese in many different ways. The Burmese were very appreciative of this aid and the country was a welcome and tolerant home for Jews for many years. The golden days of Jewish life in Burma came to a close when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Japanese occupation forced most of the Jewish community, along with most of the British colonial population, to flee to other countries. Some Jews returned after the war, but they soon realized that the beautiful life they remembered was no more and their homes and wealth were gone.

Foreign Minister Abba Eban visits Shwedagon Pagoda – March 1967 P.M U Nu with Israeli P.M Moshe Shareet and Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan at Lod airport, Israel 1955

Even so, there were promising relations between postwar Burma and the new State of Israel. Burma and Israel both achieved their independence in 1948 and Burma recognized the State of Israel in 1949; it was the first Asian country to do so. Burmese Prime Minister U Nu was the first foreign head of state to visit the newly independent State of Israel, in 1955. In 1961, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion spent two weeks in Burma. President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and Shimon Peres also visited Burma.  Despite these cordial relations, Jews found it difficult to regain their lives and re-establish their businesses in Burma after World War II. The Jews of Burma scattered—to Israel, Australia, England, and the United States. Since then, the Burmese Jewish community has continued to decrease in population.  Today, only a handful of Jews live in Burma.

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Jewish Life in Pagoda Land

Diplomats, Political & Business Leaders at Myanmar Hanukkah Reception,
December 27, 2011

 

 

Moses Samuels, Managing Director of Myanmar Shalom,son (Sammy), daughter (Dinah) with Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence.

In Burmese Chanukah celebration, signs of Myanmar’s openness to the West

 Mr. Maung Maung Swe, Chairman of Myanmar Travel Association, lighting Hanukkah Candle

Ms. Than Than Nu, daughter of first Burmese Prime Minister U Nu, lighting Hanukkah Candle


Jewish Heritage Tour

9 Days/8 Nights trip to Myanmar (Burma)

Highlights

  • Visit 110 year old beautiful Rangoon Synagogue and the threatened Jewish Cemetery
  • Memorable Shabbat in Rangoon and filling the quiet synagogue with joy and song
  • Learn the escape of Jewish community from Japanese occupation in WWII
  • Explore colonial and spiritual heritage of Yangon and observe the influences of other cultures in the region
  • Discover the world famous golden Shwedagon Pagoda
  • Visit Bagan and get stunning with its spectacular massive ancient temples
  • Visit ancient capitals – Ava, Amarapura and Sagaing
  • Cruising the tranquil waters of Inle Lake to see extraordinary floating gardens and ethnic minority villages

 

Upcoming Group Tour
SOUTHEAST ASIA through Jewish Eyes -
Fully escorted by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer

Jewish Heritage Tour itinerary is designed for group tours only. Congregations, communities or organizations interested to help and keep the Jewish spirit alive in Myanmar to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish Holydays with local community to fill the synagogue with songs & joy again, please contact to us at info@myanamrshalom.com

For all other regular tour programs, if you are interested in visiting Synagogue, Jewish cemetery and some of the Jewish site, please let us know and we can easily add to your itinerary as well.