Comments on article: InfopediaTalkThe origin of the Jewish community in Singapore can be traced to a census dated 1830 which records the presence of nine traders of the Jewish faith in Singapore. However, it is uncertain if any of these traders actually settled in Singapore because in 1833, only a total of three Jews were recorded as actual settlers. Some may have returned to their land of origin to bring family members back to Singapore. By 1833, the numbers had increased to 22 Jews: 18 males and four females. By 1858 there were 20 Jewish families in Singapore.
The Jews that came to Singapore were mainly Shephardi Jews, or Oriental Jews rather than Ashkenasi (also known as Ashkenazi) Jews who saw their home in Europe. The Shephardi Jews came mainly from India and originated from Baghdad or Arabia while the Ashkenasi were mainly from Germany.
The Ashkenasi Jewish influx came with the opening up of the Suez Canal in 1869 which shortened the journey between Europe and the East by almost 14 days. However, as early as 1857, the Chamber of Commerce records a small number who were members of that august Chamber, an indication that the Ashkenasi Jews must have quickly established a name in business. Persecution in Poland and Russia also led to the large number of Ashkenasi coming to eastern shores. The Ashkenasis continued to maintain strong links with their homeland in Europe, often using Singapore only as a base for trade and keeping their families in Europe, educating them there. They thus, seldom took an active role in the local community and were seen as separate from the rest of the Jewish community with the Ashkenasis preferring to join European clubs instead of mixing with the Shephardi.
The first Jewish quarters were in Boat Quay, off South Canal Road where the first synagogue was located in a shophouse. Later the Jews moved to North Bridge Road, Sophia Road, Wilkie Road, Dhoby Ghaut, Waterloo Street, Prinsep Street and Selegie Road. By 1910, about 500 Jews had settled in Singapore and in 1941 the Jewish population in Singapore had risen to 844. During the Japanese Occupation, the Jews were interned at various stages, in 1942, 1943 and 1945 at Sime Road Camp at Hut 106 and Changi Gaol in a rice shed nicknamed Aldgate.
The Jewish community, though small in number were formidable players in the business sphere. In 1846 there were six Jewish merchant houses in Singapore. Famous Jews include Manasseh Meyer who in 1870 established the firm of Meyer Brothers. Nissim Adis owned the land now occupied by the Supreme Court and he built the grand Hotel del'Europe.
In 1873, the Jewish community bought a piece of land from the government in Church Street now known as Waterloo Street and built their main Synagogue - the Maghaim Aboth (Shield of our Fathers). The only other synagogue, the Chesed El Synagogue, was built for the religious needs of the family of Manasseh Meyer. By 1841, they had their own cemetery in the outskirts of town, behind Fort Canning - the Orchard Road Cemetery or the Old Cemetery. As commercial interests encroached upon their land, the cemetery was moved to Moulmein, then renamed the Thomson Road Cemetery. Even this land has been reacquired by the government and the cemetery relocated to Choa Chu Kang, near the Air Base.
Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830-1945 (pp. 1-5, 57-285). Singapore: HERBILU Editorial & Marketing Services.
(Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT)
Communities of Singapore: A catalogue of oral history interviews (pp. 43-50). (1989). Singapore: Oral History Dept.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 COM)
Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (pp. 274-275). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)
Jews in Singapore [Sound recording]. (1986). Singapore: Oral History Dept.
(Call no.: R 305.892405957 JEW)
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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