While living in Singapore, an Israeli student named Mordy Miller made a surprising discovery perusing the shelves of the synagogue library. Shalem College reports:
The book he had picked up, he realized, was more than a hundred years old: printed in Baghdad—to which most Singaporean Jews, who arrived from their then-home in Calcutta in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, trace their lineage—it told the history of Singapore’s Jewish community, but from a religious standpoint.
“There’s lots of research about this community, but almost exclusively from an economic, political, or sociological point of view,” explains Miller, who is pursuing his doctoral thesis on Kabbalah and Israeli politics . . . at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “This book, though, described the community’s unique religious traditions; so far as I knew, there was nothing else like it. I asked the synagogue’s rabbi if there might be any more, and when he said yes—I couldn’t resist.”
What happened next was a months-long “real” treasure hunt, Miller says, to boxes underneath stairwells and in the synagogue’s basement. The search—since titled the Singapore Genizah Project—eventually extended to the city’s other synagogue, too. In the end, Mordy and a team of community volunteers managed to unearth nearly 700 volumes—the world’s most authoritative collection on the city’s Jewish history.
Many of the oldest volumes are in Arabic written with Hebrew letters, or—more unusually—in Hebrew written with Arabic letters. One of the most popular books seems to have been the Zohar, reflecting the mystical text’s importance to Iraqi Jewry.