Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jews in Singapore

I just heard the wife of David Marshall speak about the Jewish community in Singapore, and it was fantasticly interesting. There have been a couple of books written on the topic, so I'm sure those would be a more reliable source than my blog, but for the super abridged version...

Jews came as traders from Baghdad in the 1800s. There's record of some Jews asking for land for a cemetery in the mid-1800s (I believe that was the time - I should have taken notes!!). They built a cemetery at the end of Orchard Rd, near the area opposite Istana (!!!). That cemetery was moved, and it was then on Thomson Rd near Novena MRT. Now it's moved to somewhere else (can't remember), and I haven't been yet. I will add it to the list. Apparently the government flew in people from Israel to move the graves in the most Jewishly legal way possible. That's pretty awesome.

The first synagogue was downtown, on Synagogue Street. Now there are two (I have yet to go to the one that isn't used as much, but it looks beautiful, and I hope to go these High Holidays - at least once). That one on Synagogue Street has been gone for a really long time.

When Singapore became independent apparently many of the Jews left (California and Australia were the destinations of choice), because they thought that Singapore might become communist, since it would be Chinese majority, and that wouldn't be good for the Jews. Most of the families that stayed actually did really really well (and continue to do really really well).

David Marshall was the first Chief Minister of Singapore (for 15 months). He was also the first Singapore Ambassador to France (for 15 years). She said that his leadership as the Chief Minister was interesting, because he wasn't British, and he also wasn't quite local, so he was sort of in between.

The whole life of the British and other expatriates who helped build up Singapore is totally interesting to me, since life in Singapore was SO different than it is now, and it wasn't actually that long ago.

I will be reading the book that came out for the 100th anniversary of his birth, Marshall in Singapore. I also hope to go on a Jewish tour of Singapore when some set of parents comes. It was all totally intriguing.

Interesting pieces:
  • There was a synagogue in Penang, and it's now a stationery shop (but they know it was a synagogue, and apparently they welcome visitors). There's a cemetery in Penang also.
  • Many Jews were allowed to go to India during the Japanese occupation. (Others were taken as POWs, like David Marshall).
  • Most of the Jewish kids went to school at St. Andrews.
  • There was a lot of Jewish poverty in Singapore before independence.
  • The Jacob Ballas Children's Gardens was built from money that he donated upon his death, but he actually had donated it to a Chinese colleague who said that he didn't want it and suggested it be used in this way instead.
  • There are loads of street signs for Jewish families - I can't remember the names, but one was for a Jew who came from the UK in 1809 or so to help build the first botanic gardens in Singapore (near Fort Canning).
  • Jean Marshall came to SE Asia in 1953, to Malaya. After doing Social Work for four years in rural Malaya, she came to Singapore for one year. Don't we all... (She hasn't left)