- History of the Jews in Malaysia
Malaysian Jews Total population Unknown Regions with significant populations Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Penang Languages Religion Part of a series of articles on Jews and Judaism Who is a Jew? · Etymology · Culture
Malaysian Jews is a term used to refer to Jews living in Malaysia, or those originally from the country. A good number used to live openly in the state of Penang until towards the end of the 1970s. They were also found elsewhere in the nation, especially in Negri Sembilan and Malacca. Malaysian Jews consists mainly of Sephardic and Marrano Jewish descendents amongst the Kristang people (Portuguese descent Eurasians), Oriental Jews (the majority of whom are Baghdadi Jews), India's Cochin Jews, with the rest being Ashkenazi Jews and possibly Chinese Jews, who fled from Kaifeng, China, during the communist revolution in China in 1949.
The first contact between Jews and the inhabitants of Malaya (later part of Malaysia) goes back to the 9th century AD on the riverbanks of the Bujang Valley, and later well into the 18th Century AD in the cosmopolitan bazaars of Malacca. The presence of Sephardic Baghdadi Jews in Penang probably occurred at the turn of the 19th century as the fledgling British ruled entreport grew and attracted Jewish trading families like the Sassoons and Meyers from India. There was also significant emigration of Jews from the Ottoman province of Baghdad as a result of the persecutions of the governor, Daud Pasha, whose rule lasted from 1817 to 1831.
The first Baghdadi Jew known by name to have settled in Penang was Ezekiel Aaron Menasseh, who emigrated from Baghdad in 1895. Menasseh claimed to have been the only practicing Jew in Malaya for 30 years until after World War I, when a significant number of Baghdadi Jews began to settle in Malaya. Statistics from the same period showed a somewhat different picture :
General Census of Jewish settlers in Penang (1881–1941) Year Males Females Boys Girls Total 1881 14 9 5 4 32 1891 47 64 14 30 155 1899 83 41 33 15 172 1901 16 17 8 4 45 1941 11 8 6 5 30
During the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the Penang Jewish community was evacuated to Singapore, and many were interred by the Japanese during the subsequent occupation of both Malaya and Singapore. After the war, a majority had emigrated to Singapore, Australia, Israel and the United States. By 1963, only 20 Penang Jewish families remained in the country.
Penang's only synagogue, located on 28, Nagore Road, closed down in 1976 as the community could no longer fulfill the minyan, a quorum of ten or more adult Jews assembled for purposes of fulfilling a public religious obligation.
Today, approximately 100 Jews who are refugees from Russia are said to reside in Malaysia,. The original Penang Jewish community has ceased to exist with the death of Mordecai (Mordy) David Mordecai on 15 July 2011. The rest of the Penang Jews have either embraced Christianity or else have emigrated to other countries, especially with the rise of anti-semitic sentiments and anti-Israel policies pursued by the Malaysian government since the 1970s.
Jahudi Road (or Jew Road) in Penang, where the majority of the Penang Jewish population stayed, has since been renamed Jalan Zainal Abidin, erasing another legacy of the Jewish presence in Malaysia. The only significant presence remaining is the Jewish cemetery and the old, disused synagogue.
Many of the descendants of the Penang Jews are mainly seen in Singapore (such as ex late Chief Minister David Marshall, a Baghdadi Jew). Many also reside in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, especially in New York, but their numbers are unknown. The majority of Penang Jews spoke Malay and English, whilst the rest spoke mainly Yiddish, Persian, Hebrew and also Arabic.
Penang Jewish Cemetery
The Penang Jewish Cemetery, established in 1805, is believed to be the oldest single Jewish cemetery in the country. It forms a 38,087 square feet (3,538.4 m2) cleaver shaped plot of land situated alongside Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Jahudi Road), a small link road located between Burmah and MacAlister Roads in George Town. The cemetery used to be a green lung, but much of the lawn has been cemented over.
The oldest Jewish tombstone is dated 9 July 1835 dedicated to a Mrs. Shoshan Levi and is believed to mark the grave of the English Jewess that was the benefactor who donated the land where the current cemetery stands. Most of the graves take the form of a triangular vaulted-lid casket, resembling ossuaries commonly found in Israel. There are approximately 107 graves located in the cemetery, with the most recent tombstone dated 2011, incidentally the grave of the last ethnic Jew on the island. It is the only cemetery established solely for the once small and thriving Jewish community in Peninsular Malaysia, although there may be a few Jewish graves in other non-Jewish cemeteries.
The graves of the Cohens are located separately from the main group of graves on the north-eastern corner of the cemetery and it includes the grave of Eliaho Hayeem Victor Cohen, a Lieutenant with the 9th Jat Regiment of the British Indian Army killed in an accident on 10 October 1941. It is the only grave in the cemetery that is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery is itself managed by a board of trustees established and registered in 1885.
Notable Malaysian Jews
- Gary Braut - primary Jewish contact in Malaysia
- Charles Ephraim – one of the last Penang born Jews 
- Ezekiel Menasseh – the earliest verified Jewish resident in Penang.
- Edgar Pinto Xavier - Ambassador for the Secular Humanistic Jewish Movement in Malaysia & the Far East 
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- A Malaysian Jew in New York
- Jewish Exponent: Mythical Malaysia
- Yahoo Travel: Jewish Cemetery
- Jewish Photo Library - Former Penang Synagogue
- Jewish Photo Library - Penang Jewish Cemetery
- International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies: Malaysia
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