The Jewish Community of Singapore


The first Jews to settle in Singapore were of Baghdadi origin, mainly from India, who migrated to Singapore in 1840 when the Sassoon Family established business interests. Prayers were first held in a house in the street still known as “Synagogue Street.” The Maghain Aboth Synagogue was opened in 1878; it possessed a number of Torah Scrolls in beaten silver cases brought from Baghdad. Another synagogue, Chased El, was built in 1904 by Sir Manasseh Meyer, reputed to be the richest Jew in the Far East. He also endowed a Talmud Torah. Local custom sanctioned conveyance to Synagogue by rickshaw on Sabbath.

The community remained largely Sephardi, but Ashkenazi immigrants from England, the Netherlands, China, Russia and Germany also settled there. Most engaged in business and the professions. The community continued highly prosperous and important out of all proportion to its size.
The 1931 census records that the 832 Jews and larger number of Arab residents were the largest house property owners in the city. 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 Australia, England, the United States, and Israel. Apart from their contribution to commerce, Jews have taken a considerable part in political life and in 1955 David T. Marshall became the first chief minister of the Republic. The community is represented by the Jewish Welfare Board which publishes a monthly bulletin. There exist two synagogues with one officiating rabbi; social activities center in the Menorah Club. The community numbered approximately 450 in 1968.

From the beginning of the 1960s, trade relations began to develop between Singapore and Israel. Israel experts extended technical aid to Singapore, while a number of mutual visits were made by ministers, public figures and senior officials. In 1968 a trade agreement was signed by the two countries and an Israel trade mission opened in Singapore. In May 1969 diplomatic relations were established, and in July the Israel Ambassador presented his credentials. Technical cooperation includes the dispatch of Israel advisors to the Singapore Army. In 1970 the two countries signed an aviation agreement.

 

REUBEN MANASSEH MEYER

Reuben Manasseh Meyer Community Hall, Singapore, 1980 Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center Courtesy of Michael Tal, Israel

Chessed El Synagogue

Chessed El Synagogue, Singapore, 1980 Photo: Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA

Magen Avot Synagogue

Magen Avot Synagogue, Singapore, 1984 Photo: Ehud Malez, Israel Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center Courtesy of Ehud Malez, Israel

Jewish cemetery of Singapore

Gravestones in the Jewish cemetery of Singapore, 1983 Photo: Ehud Malez, Israel Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center Courtesy Ehud Malez, Israel