History of the Jews in Indonesia
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The history of the Jews in Indonesia began with the arrival of early European explorers and settlers, and the first Jews arrived in the 17th century. Most of Indonesian Jews arrived from the Netherlands, Middle East, Northern Africa and Southern Europe. Jews in Indonesia presently form a very small Jewish community of about 100-500, of mostly Sephardi Jews.
In the 1850s, Jewish traveler Jacob Saphir was the first to write about the Jewish community in the Dutch East Indies after visiting Batavia, Dutch East Indies. He had spoken with a local Jew who told him of about 20 Jewish families in the city and several more in Surabaya and Semarang. Most of the Jews living in the Dutch East Indies in the 19th century were Dutch Jews who worked as merchants or were affiliated with the colonial regime. Other members of the Jewish community were immigrants from Iraq or Aden.
Between the two World Wars the number of Jews in the Dutch East Indies was estimated at 2,000 by Israel Cohen. Indonesian Jews suffered greatly under the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia, were interned and forced to work in labor camps. After the war, the released Jews found themselves without their previous property and many emigrated to the United States, Australia or Israel.
Assimilation and population changes
The social and cultural characteristics of Indonesia contributed to assimilation. Most of Indonesian Jews changed their names to Indonesian names. Jews were obliged to change their names and beliefs. Later Chinese Indonesians were forced to change their names as well, but they are still allowed to practice Buddhism in Indonesia.
Indonesian Jews face the challenge of declaring a religion on their government ID cards called KTP (Kartu Tanda Penduduk). Every citizen over the age of 17 must carry a KTP, which includes the holder's religion and Indonesia only recognizes six religions: Islam, (non-Catholic) Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. It does not officially recognise Judaism and other religions.
An estimated 20,000 descendants of Jews still live in Indonesia, though many are losing their historical identity. Since most of Indonesian Jews are actually Jews from Southern Europe and Middle East Area, languages which are spoken by Indonesian Jews are Indonesian, Malay, Arabic, Hebrew, Portuguese and Spanish.
There was a synagogue in Surabaya, provincial capital of East Java in Indonesia. For many years it was the only synagogue in the country. The synagogue became inactive beginning 2009 and had no Torah scrolls or rabbi. It was located in Jalan Kayun 6 on a 2.000 m² lot near the Kali Mas river in house built in 1939 during Dutch rule.
The home was bought by the local Jewish community from a Dutch doctor in 1948 and transformed into a synagogue. Only the mezuzah and 2 Stars of David in the entrance showed the presence of the synagogue. The community in Surabaya is no longer big enough to support a minyan, a gathering of 10 men needed in order to conduct public worship. The synagogue was totally demolished in 2013. No sign of it was left over.
The Indonesian Jewish community is very tiny, with most members living in the capital of Jakarta and the rest in Surabaya. Many Jewish cemeteries still exist around the country in Semarang (center of Java), in Pangkalpinang in Bangka Island, in Palembang south of Sumatra, and in Surabaya.
Since 2003, Shaar Hashamayim synagogue has been serving the local Jewish community of some 20 people in Tondano city, Minahasa Regency, North Sulawesi. Currently it is the only synagogue in Indonesia that provides services. A tiny local Jewish community remains in the area, composed mostly of those who rediscovered their ancestral roots and converted back to Judaism.
- Klemperer-Markman, Ayala. "The Jewish Community of Indonesia". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
- The Jewish Virtual Library - Indonesia
- Sinaya, James. (May 30, 2013).Jawa pos newspaper,26 May 2013,30 May 2013
- Hussain, Zakir (February 18, 2013). "Indonesia's Only Synagogue Struggles to Find Wider Acceptance". Straits Times. Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot: The Jewish Community of Indonesia
- The Jews of Surabaya
- "In a Sliver of Indonesia, a Public Embrace of Judaism", The New York Times
- Jakarta Post : "Story behind RI's sole synagogue"
- The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot : The Synagogue of Surabaya
- Penganut Yahudi tanpa sinagoge