In Repressive Myanmar, the Tiny Jewish Community Enjoys Toleration

Jan. 15 2019

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.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Burma, East Asian Jewry, George Orwell, Jewish World, Muslim-Jewish relations, Synagogues

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion