In December 2012, Temple Member Riva Levinson visited the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon, Myanmar. In coordination with Temple Clergy, Riva delivered a message of support from Temple Rodef Shalom to the Synagogue’s caretaker, Moses Samuels, and made a donation in the name of Rodef Shalom.
Musmeah Yeshua is the sole synagogue in the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The synagogue was established by Iraqi Jews more than 100 years ago when Burma had a thriving Jewish community. At its height, pre- WWII, the synagogue had 3,000 members and the Jews of Burma played a prominent role in business, politics, science and medicine.
The Japanese occupation of Burma forced many Jews to flee the country. Notwithstanding, Burma established a strong relationship with the newly formed State of Israel in 1948 and was the first Asian country to recognize Israel in 1949.
While some Jews returned after WWI, the Jews found it difficult to regain their former lives and livelihoods and many migrated to America, Israel and elsewhere. The community further shrank with the imposition of military rule in 1997.
In July 2012, with the release from House Arrest of Nobel Laureate Aung Sann Suu Kyi, and a commitment from the military rulers to usher in a democracy, the United States re-established relations with Myanmar opening the way for US businesses to invest in the country and allowing for greater people to people exchanges. Riva’s visit was part of a US investor mission.
Today, the synagogue is home to only eight Jewish families and maintained by donations from around the world. It is located in the Muslim commercial district of Yangon and exists peacefully in one of the world’s most multi-cultural neighborhoods.
The Samuels family, in addition to overseeing the synagogue, also runs a small tour company, called Myanmar Shalom. The Samuels family has invited Temple Rodef Shalom to organize a visit of its members to the country and then to honor the community in conducting Shabbat Services. Currently, the only services held in the country are on the High Holy Days when clergy from neighboring countries, usually Hong Kong, come to the synagogue.
Because the country has been sealed off from the world, much the country’s historical treasurers has remained unexplored by Western visitors. Riva reports it is a magical place.
For more information on Myanmar visit: www.myanmarshalom.com
Pictures from Left to Right:
1. The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, Yangon, Myanmar
2. Moses and Sammy Samuels displaying their family Torah brought to Myanmar 110 years ago from Baghdad
3. Riva Levinson and Moses Samuels.