History of the Jews in Singapore

The first Jews to settle in Singapore were of Bagdadi origin, mainly from India, who migrated to Singapore soon after Sir Stamford Raffles established Singapore as a trading post in 1819.

A couple of decades after the Sultan of Johor in 1824 sold the 200-square-mile (520 km2) area to the British, the Jewish community was large enough to build a synagogue seating 40 persons on what is still known as "Synagogue Street."



The 1931 census records that the 832 Jews and larger number of Arab residents were the largest house property owners in the city.[1] There were over 1,500 Jewish inhabitants by 1939. Many were interned by the Japanese during World War II, and a number subsequently emigrated to IsraelAustralia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As a result, the community numbered approximately 450 in 1968. Due to a large Ashkenazi immigration rate to Singapore in recent years, the population is now between 2000 and 3000 and comprises both foreign Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Eurasian Jews.[2]

David Marshall

Probably the most well-known Jew in the history of Singapore is David Marshall. He was born in 1908 and is known for being the first chief minister of Singapore in 1955 lasting for 14 months. He also led the first Merdeka Talks to London in hope for gaining independence from the British. In his later life, he served as Singapore's ambassador to FranceSwitzerlandSpain, and Portugal. He died in 1995 of lung cancer.[3]

Sir Manasseh Meyer and Synagogues

An interesting and influential figure at the turn of the twentieth century was Sir Manasseh Meyer.[4] An extremely wealthy Jew, probably the wealthiest in the Far East at the time, Sir Manasseh Meyer founded the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in response to finding the original synagogue in Synagogue Street in poor condition. Over the years, as Jewish immigration to Singapore increased, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue began to become overcrowded during services. Because of friction between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities over how the services should be carried out, Sir Manasseh Meyer decided to build a new synagogue which was completed in 1905, The Chesed-El Synagogue. Both synagogues still stand today and have been gazetted as national monuments by the Singapore Government. The Maghain Aboth and Chesed El Synagogues are open throughout the year. Since 1993 there has also been a Reform community in Singapore, the United Hebrew Congregation.

Education in Youth

A school called Ganenu ("Our Garden") has been set up to nurture and provide Jewish education for young Jewish toddlers in Singapore. In addition to this, a school,held on Sunday only, called Sunday School, was set up for young and old kids with two main streams. The first stream is called Talmud Torah which was set up to provide a basic understanding of Jewish Education and to help them learn and get in touch with their Jewish heritage.There is also another stream called 'Chativa Israelit' which is dedicated to those who come from Israel and already know Hebrew and further strengthens their language and vocabulary to allow them to be prepared if they will ever need to return to Israel. The Reform community, the United Hebrew Congregation, opened their weekly Religious School in February 2014.