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.