Tag: Jews of Singapore

Jewish museum opens in Singapore

A  museum  has opened in Singapore to showcase the 200-year history of the Jewish community, founded by Baghdadi Jews. Among its prominent figures was Sir David Marshall, who served as chief minister  in the 1950s, and Jacob Ballas, chairman of the Stock Exchange. Report in the Straits Times: 

Inside the new Jewish museum (Photo: Desmond Foo)

SINGAPORE – Few know that the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street, meaning “Shield of Our Fathers”, is Asia’s second-largest and South-east Asia’s oldest synagogue.

Built in 1878, the initially one-storey building has over the years been made bigger and become the unofficial centre of Jewish activity here.

On Thursday (Dec 2), it hosted a ceremony that launched the country’s first Jewish museum – the Jews of Singapore Museum, which traces the 200-year history of the Jews here.

Located on the first floor of the synagogue’s neighbour, the Jacob Ballas Centre, it covers the community’s arrival in Singapore soon after it became a British colony in the early 1800s to March this year, when a 20-year-old man was detained for planning a knife attack at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue.

The narrative it tells pauses at several key Jewish figures in Singapore’s history. A panel is dedicated to Mr David Marshall, who was chief minister of pre-independent Singapore from 1955 to 1956, and a room to Mr Jacob Ballas, benefactor of the Jacob Ballas centre and chairman of the Malaysia and Singapore Stock Exchange from 1964 to 1967.

Other notable names include former Supreme Court judge Joseph Grimberg, pioneering surgeon Yahya Cohen and Sir Manasseh Meyer, a prominent businessman whose name adorns one of the buildings at the National University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah campus.




A tiny Jewish haven in the Far East

Singapore’s first chief minister was David Marshall, of Iraqi-Jewish extraction. Even today, on the anniversary of his death, residents of Singapore from all religions pay their respects to him. Article in Y-net News (with thanks: Michelle):

A serious crisis took
place in Singapore after World War II, and few Jews remained in the
country: Only 150 out of several thousands, most of them Iraqi Jews from
Baghdad, who lead the community to this very day. Since then, the
community has grown significantly and numbers some 1, 500 men and women
today (including the Israelis and Jews who arrive for a short relocation
period for business purposes).

The community is mostly Orthodox, wealthy and very inviting. Slowly,
over the years, the community grew and expanded thanks to people who
arrived from all over the world, including several thousand Israelis who
are sent to Singapore every year by their workplaces on missions or
special projects.

The Elias building which belongs to Singapore's rich Jews and has been well preserved by the government (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

Elias building which belongs to Singapore’s rich Jews and has been well
preserved by the government (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

The few Jews who remained in Singapore after the war stood out. For
example, David Marshall, who was a successful Jewish lawyer and served
as Singapore’s first chief minister from 1955 to 1956. To this very day,
on the anniversary of his death, many residents from a wide spectrum of
the country’s different religions pay their respects to him.

In 1965, when Singapore gained its independence and split from
Malaysia, Israel was one of the few countries which helped the new
republic. Singapore’s residents are still grateful to Israel to this
very day, and the Israelis are very popular in the country.

The community is led by Rabbi Mordechai Abergel. I met with him in
his modest office after a comprehensive security check at the entrance
to the community building. He has been serving as the community rabbi
since 1994, but although more than 20 years have passed, it seems that
his vigor and positive energies have only increased over the years.

The rabbi is very involved in everything taking place in his
community, and keeps it united by holding joint Shabbat meals and
communal events during the Jewish holidays. The highlight of the year is
the Lag B’Omer bonfire, which brings together 700 people.

Rabbi Abergel also serves as the community’s slaughterer. He
slaughters the poultry himself in a bid to keep the prices low and
reasonable for kashrut observing consumers. The rabbi believes that
every Jewish home, wherever it is, should observe kashrut, and therefore
only the cost price is charged for the chicken. The beef, on the other
hand, has to be imported from Australia, so its price in Singapore is
much more expensive.

The rabbi is also an authorized mohel but prefers not to take
any chances, so most new parents privately book a mohel from Israel for
their son’s circumcision ritual.

There are two active synagogues in Singapore, Chesed-El and Maghain
Aboth. The latter, which was built in the early 20th century, is located
in the community compound on Waterloo Street, which also includes a
ritual bath for men and a ritual bath for women, a kosher store which
offers a variety of products from Israel and around the world, and a
banquet hall which holds weddings, bar mitzvah, anniversaries and

The Maghain Aboth Synagogue (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

The Maghain Aboth Synagogue (Photo: Ayelet Mamo Shay)

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