Hong Kong is home to about 2,500 Jews. The community today is largely made up of expatriates, and enjoys a relatively autonomous existence with almost no anti-Semitism. The Hong Kong Jewish community is represented by the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong (UJC) – the Hong Kong affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.
United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong
Phone: (852) 2523-2985
Fax: (852) 2523-2985
President: Joshua Lavin
Executive Administrator: Nancy Lui
Though Jewish merchants had come to Hong Kong for commercial and economic reasons for centuries, there was not a settled Jewish presence until 1842, when the region became a British Crown Colony. Two prominent Sephardic dynasties – the Sassoon and Kadoorie families – moved their businesses to Hong Kong as a result. Both families were instrumental in the development of the port, and largely employed Jews in an effort to encourage community population growth.
The Hong Kong Jewish Community was established by 1857, and shortly thereafter, the first synagogue was opened. Jewish engineers and businessmen played a crucial role in the development of the city, helping establish vital commercial centers – such as Nathan Road – and essential segments of the transportation network. Sir Matthew Nathan, a Jewish major in the British Royal Engineers, played a notable role in these developments and later served as the first and only Jewish governor of Hong Kong from 1904 to 1907.
The Hong Kong Jewish community grew slowly and steadily during the first half of the 20th century. The Japanese occupation of mainland China in the late 1930s saw a number of Jews leave its major cities – Shanghai, Tianjin, and Harbin – for Hong Kong. World War II and the consequent Japanese occupation of Hong Kong saw a temporary suspension of Jewish life in the territory.
Hong Kong’s development as an international and trade finance hub has attracted tens of thousands of foreigners, including Jews from Israel, the US, the UK, and many others, revitalizing the local Jewish community. The current Jewish community in Hong Kong is made up largely of expatriates seeking business and commercial opportunities. Well integrated into Hong Kong society, the Jewish community was not adversely affected by the 1997 transfer of power from Britain to China, and experiences little to no anti-Semitism or discrimination.
Imperial Japan’s aggressive actions in the Pacific Ocean and towards Asia in the years preceding the outbreak of World War II created a sense of unease among regional Jews. The Japanese conquest of Shanghai in 1937, and later the entirety of mainland China, signaled a disturbing turn for China’s Jewish population. As a result, many Jews left China’s major cities – Tianjin, Harbin, and Shanghai – for Hong Kong.
However, the outbreak of World War II and consequent Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in 1941 halted the expansion of the Hong Kong Jewish community, and temporarily halted all Jewish activities there. Those who did not leave before the Japanese arrived were interned at the Stanley Barracks, a fort on the Southern side of Hong Kong island. The Ohel Leah Synagogue survived the war as a warehouse, but the Jewish Club, which had been established by the Kadoorie family, was looted and torn down by the Japanese (it was later rebuilt in 1949). Hong Kong was freed from Japanese occupation at the end of the war and Jewish life resumed.
According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s World Jewish Population, 2015, the Jewish community in Hong Kong numbers about 2,500 out of a total population of 7,191,503.
While the Jewish community in Hong Kong is almost entirely concentrated in the city limit, there is a very small Jewish presence in the New Territories, Hong Kong’s rural backcountry.
The Jewish community in Hong Kong is represented by the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong (UJC). In addition to the UJC, the community also has a mikveh and Jewish Community Centre (JCC), that run through the Ohel Leah Synagogue. The JCC serves as a hub for Jewish life in Hong Kong, offering a variety of Jewish-based programs and communal activities that range from academic to cultural.
Other Jewish communal organizations in Hong Kong focus on a variety of fields. The Jewish Women’s Association of Hong Kong, a voluntary organization that focuses on empowering and supporting women and children, provides educational, health, and social welfare programs. The Jewish Historical Society provides archival and documentation resources for the community, and the Jewish Film Festival draws attendees both from within the community as well as the broader Hong Kong community.
Despite the small size of Hong Kong, all streams of Judaism are active in the territory. There are two Sephardi Orthodox congregations – Kehilat Zion and Shuva Israel – as well as a modern Orthodox institution, the Ohel Leah Synagogue. The United Jewish Congregation serves a conglomerate of streams, providing a place of worship for Reform, Liberal, and Conservative Hong Kong Jews.
Kosher food can be found in a limited capacity in Hong Kong, largely through the auspices of the JCC and the Chabad of Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong does have a few kosher restaurants, kosher food outside of these institutions is rare, if not non-existent.
Jewish education in Hong Kong is largely run through the territory’s religious institutions. In addition, the Carmel School Association, one of the leading international schools in Hong Kong, provides a Jewish-structured education and offers a secondary education program.
The various communal synagogues and institutions, such as Chabad, he UJC and the Ohel Synagogue all offer comprehensive Torah and Hebrew studies.
There is a local chapter of Bnei Akiva in Hong Kong and the Ohel Leah Synagogue runs a youth group called Young Ohel Leah (#YOLO). Chabad and several other groups also run youth activities.
Israel and Hong Kong established formal relationships in 1985, and maintain close economic and technological ties.
Consulate General of Israel in Hong Kong and Macau
701 Admiralty Centre Tower II
18 Harcourt Road, Hong Kong
Telephone: +852 2821 7500
Fax: +852 2865 0220