There are 20 Jews born in Myanmar, but the community is growing, with 80 – 100 Jewish expatriates now living in the country. Sammy Samuels is determined to follow in the footsteps of his father Moses Samuels, who died in June of this year aged 65. Sammy is leading the Yangon community, as it prepares to host a Hanucah candle-lighting ceremony. (The festival begins this evening and lasts for eight days). Report on the BBC website (with thanks: Nelly, Tim and Ron).
“Jewish people came here in the 19th Century from Iraq and Iran. They
traded goods such as coffee and teak between Burma, as Myanmar was known
then, India and the Middle East.
World War Two, when Burma was a British colony, there were about 2,500
Jews here, enjoying a wonderful life. We had a Jewish school with more
than 200 students and there were dozens of Jewish-owned stores in
downtown Rangoon (now Yangon). In 1910, the city even had a Jewish
But when the Japanese came in 1942, they gave the Jews of
Rangoon a hard time. My grandfather was interrogated and the synagogue
was closed for two months while they searched for evidence that we were
collaborating with the British. They found nothing and left us alone.
But it was enough to make us afraid, and many Jewish families left.
in 1962, the military took over and nationalised many businesses. This
led to a second exodus of Jews. Incidentally, as well as taking their
Torah scrolls with them, they left the country without Coca-Cola. The
drink was sold by the Solomon family, which owned a bottling plant in
Rangoon. After they left, Coca-Cola didn’t go on sale again officially
But through all this, my family – and just seven others – stayed. My
grandfather Isaac Samuels felt very strongly that Jews should remain in
Burma and that if we left, the synagogue would be taken over by the
government. So in 1978, as my grandfather lay on his deathbed, my father
promised him that the Samuels would stay as long as we could.
I was born two years later, the youngest Jew in the country. I’m 35 now, and I am still the youngest.”
Top: Musmeah Yeshua synagogue is in a Muslim area of the capital Yangon. Below: Samuel Samuels’ wedding was the first for 27 years.