Search This Blog

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I travel with my pal Roland a lot and he loves going to strange and exotic places, as I do. He also likes checking out weird scenes like synagogues in bizarre countries. Recently I wrote a post about the remnants of the Jewish community in Cochin in Kerala, India. In 1991 we were traipsing around Egypt and Roland talked me into getting on a Sinai bus for a dusty drive to see the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. A few years later he even managed to find an Iraqi synagogue in Singapore and 3 days before it was blown up, a synagogue in Istanbul. He's an atheist whose distant ancestors he thinks were Catholic (he's unsure).

Anyway, now we're in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Myanmar (formerly Burma) and a less "Jewish place" you could never imagine. I thought about looking into it and thought, "Nah; not a chance." I was wrong. We were wandering around in a squalid Muslim neighborhood this morning when all of a sudden we see a star of David and Hebrew writing on a building.

It isn't "officially" a synagogue any longer. There are only 8 Jewish families left in town, most of them having fled when the Japanese took over in 1942 and the rest when the nationalistic socialists got control in the early 50s. The last rabbi left in 1963. So officially the synagogue is a museum and community center. There's a trustee instead of a rabbi, Moses Samuels, who helps keep the joint going and he has a son in NYC, Sammy who graduated from Yeshiva University and says he plans to return to Yangon and run it after his father. The official name is Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue and it' on 26th Street, not that far from the Bogyoke Market.

There weren't any Jews around, just a Burmese caretaker. Later a Canadian Jewish tourist from Thunder Bay wandered by. We saw pictures of Sammy Samuels and he looks Burmese. Outside I asked a couple of guys lounging on the street who looked like Al-Qaeda recruits if they were Jews and they giggled.

No comments: