Community in Myanmar - World Jewish Congress
Myanmar

According to the estimates of the local Jewish community, Myanmar is home to about 20 Jews. Despite a dwindling population, Burmese Jewry remains well organized and devoted to maintaining Jewish life in the country. The community has seen a recent resurgence in interest in Burmese Jewry. The Jewish community in Myanmar is represented by the Myanmar Jewish Community – the Burmese affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Myanmar Jewish Community

Telephone: (951) 252-814, 377846, 378476
Email: info@myanmarshalom.com
Website: http://www.myanmarshalom.com/

President: Sammy Samuels
History

The history of Jews in Myanmar dates to the mid-19th century, after Britain had conquered Rangoon (now Yangon) and colonized the country in 1852. Baghdadi Jewish merchants from India and Iraq arrived in Rangoon and Mandalay en route to other trading locations, and were encouraged by British imperial authorities to settle in the colony. Soon after, they became heavily involved in trading rice and cotton, and were a conduit between British rulers in and import-export communities throughout the world. The Jewish community in Burma was widely successful and the Jewish population boomed as a result. By 1857, a synagogue, the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, was consecrated in Rangoon.

At the turn of the century, the Jewish community in Burma continued to prosper, with Burmese Jews playing a large role in Burmese science and medicine, business, and politics. In fact, there was a Jewish mayor of Rangoon early in the twentieth century, and Jewish philanthropy added huge additions to the local communities for Jews and non-Jews alike. By 1940, the Jewish population in Burma reached its height at approximately 2,500 Jews.
However, World War II saw the Jewish community in Burma nearly go extinct, with over 75% of the prewar population not returning to the country. Many found it difficult to return to their former livelihoods after the war and decided to emigrate to places such as the United States and Israel. Such difficulties were exacerbated by Burma gaining independence in 1948, as many Burmese Jews had benefited under the British system.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, Burma, changed to Myanmar in 1987, was increasingly autocratic, with power concentrated in the hands of the military dictatorship. For the few Jews who did remain in Myanmar during this period, there was little contact with other Jews outside of the country. However, when the quasi-civilian government led by President Thein Sein opened up the country, many foreign investments, business opportunities, and interest in tourism allowed the Jewish community to thrive and become connected once again to the outside world. It also brought in an influx of foreign Jews interested in Myanmar and Jewish life in the country.

Today, Burmese Jews live in relative stability, living peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. They are able to practice their religion freely and openly, and experience little anti-Semitism.

The years of the Holocaust

Burma was invaded by Japan in 1942 and many Burmese Jews fled to India during the onset of violence. Though the Japanese were part of the Axis, they did not harbor the intense anti-Semitism of the Nazis, and instead viewed the Jews living in Burma with the same suspicion as non-Jew; that being “pro-British.” Jews and non-Jews alike were jailed, driven out of the country, and in some cases, killed by the Japanese occupiers over the course of the war.

Demography

The Myanmar Jewish community estimates that there are around 20 Jews in the country. All Burmese Jews live in Yangon.

Community Life

Jewish life in Myanmar is completely centered around the Myanmar Jewish Community, which acts as the communal representative organization in Myanmar. Run by the Samuels family, the late Moses Samuels and now his son, Sammy Samuels, the Myanmar Jewish Community is based in the Mesmuah Yeshua Synagogue, where all Jewish-related activities are held in the country.

Religious and Cultural life

The Mesmuah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon is the only active synagogue in the country. Due to the small size of the Burmese Jewish community there is no official rabbi.

Kosher food is extremely rare in Myanmar.

Relations with Israel

Israel and Myanmar maintain full diplomatic relations, with the latter having been the first Asian country to recognize Israel in 1949.

Embassy of Israel in Yangon
No. 15, Khabaung St.
Hlaing Township, Yangon
Myanmar

Telephone: 95 1 515112-5
Fax: 95 1 515116
Email: info@yangon.mfa.gov.il

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