In Myanmar’s capital city Yangon, some 200 people, including the city’s chief minister and representatives of five local religious communities, attended a Hanukkah party this past December. Only about twenty Jews live in the city, but they enjoy tolerance, negligible anti-Semitism, and good relations with the local Muslim minority—who are spared the murderous persecution to which their coreligionists of the Rohingya ethnicity have been subjected. Charles Dunst writes:
The Jewish community here grew rapidly from the mid-1800s through 1942. At its peak, 3,000 Jews called Myanmar home, when it was still known as Burma and remained part of the British empire. Some rose to local power, like David Sofaer, who in the 1930s served as the mayor of Yangon, then known as Rangoon.
Jewish restaurants, pharmacies, and schools once marked the city’s streets. While these businesses have faded away, stars of David still adorn some buildings in Yangon: a school nearly 40 minutes from downtown; a skincare shop in the heart of downtown; a paint store across the street from the synagogue. . . .
Most of the Jews fled when Japan invaded the country in World War II, as the Axis power distrusted them for their perceived political alignment with the British. The majority of those who remained left in the mid-1960s, when the new regime nationalized businesses as part of a socialist agenda that would soon run the country into the ground. . . .
In the 1920s, the famed British author George Orwell, then a colonial police officer in Burma, recognized the Jewish presence there [when he] condemned British operations in the country for being “a device for giving trade monopolies to the English—or rather to gangs of Jews and Scotchmen.” . . . . Today, the [still-functioning] 19th-century Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon sits solitary in this land of golden pagodas and remains wholly unguarded in the city’s main Muslim neighborhood.