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Nov 25, 2010

Indonesia's Jews

When Barak Obama recently went to Indonesia and complimented them on their tolerance, he was scoffed at. He was scoffed at by many people, but he was scoffed at by Jews for the reason that how can he call them tolerant when there are no Jews living there and they are not welcome and cannot build shuls.

The scoffing, it seems, was hasty and unfair.

The New York Times has an article about the Jews of Indonesia, the largest menorah (Chabad obviously) in the world being found in Indonesia, Israeli flags and even a synagogue.
A new, 62-foot-tall menorah, possibly the world’s largest, rises from a mountain overlooking this Indonesian city, courtesy of the local government. Flags of Israel can be spotted on motorcycle taxi stands, one near a six-year-old synagogue that has received a face-lift, including a ceiling with a large Star of David, paid for by local officials.

A 62 foot tall minorah, possibly the largest one in the world and built on a mountain overlooking Manado, was paid for by the local government.
Long known as a Christian stronghold and more recently as home to evangelical and charismatic Christian groups, this area on the fringes of northern Indonesia has become the unlikely setting for increasingly public displays of pro-Jewish sentiments as some people have embraced the faith of their Dutch Jewish ancestors. With the local governments’ blessing, they are carving out a small space for themselves in the sometimes strangely shifting religious landscape of Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.

The trend comes as extremist Islamic groups have grown bolder in assailing Christian and other religious minorities elsewhere in Indonesia, with the central government, fearful of offending Muslim groups, doing little to prevent the attacks. Last November, extremists protesting the 2008-9 war in Gaza shut down what had been the most prominent remnant of Indonesia’s historic but little-known Jewish community, a century-old synagogue in Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city.

That left the synagogue in a town just outside Manado — founded by Indonesians still struggling to learn about Judaism and now attended by about 10 people — as Indonesia’s sole surviving Jewish house of worship. Before reaching out for help to sometimes suspicious Jewish communities outside Indonesia, they researched Judaism at an Internet cafe here. They turned, they said jokingly, to Rabbi Google for answers. They compiled a Torah by printing pages off the Internet. They sought the finer points of davening on YouTube.

“We’re just trying to be good Jews,” said Toar Palilingan, 27, who, wearing a black coat and a broad-brimmed hat in the ultra-Orthodox style, led a Sabbath dinner at his family home recently with two regulars.

“But if you compare us to Jews in Jerusalem or Brooklyn,” added Mr. Palilingan, now also known as Yaakov Baruch, “we’re not there yet.”

Indonesia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations but have discreetly shared military and economic ties over the decades. In recent years, Jewish businessmen from Israel and elsewhere have quietly traveled here seeking business opportunities.

Moshe Kotel, 47, who was born in El Salvador and has Israeli and American citizenship, has been coming to Manado every year since 2003 and owns a business in organic eggs. Mr. Kotel, whose wife is from the area, said he felt nervous landing at the airport here for the first time.

“It was 11 p.m. already, and I always carry tefillin with me,” Mr. Kotel said, referring to the small leather boxes housing Scriptural passages. “But ever since I saw the Israeli flags on the taxis at the airport, I’ve always felt welcome here.”

The government of North Minahasa, a mostly Christian district here, erected the giant menorah last year at a cost of $150,000, said Margarita Rumokoy, the head of the district’s tourism department.

Denny Wowiling, a local legislator, said he proposed building the menorah after learning about the one in front of Israel’s Knesset. He hoped to attract tourists and businessmen from Europe.

“It is also for the Jewish people to see that there is this sacred symbol, their sacred symbol, outside their country,” he said.
So, Barak Obama was right. Indonesia is turning out to be a tolerant country.


  1. There's also a Jewish community in Iran. That doesn't make it a tolerant country.

  2. yoni - My point was not to claim Indonesia is tolerant.

    that was just an interesting and humorous way to point to an interesting article about Jews in Indonesia.

  3. Well then, point well made.

  4. I don't know if Obama really understands the community. I'd love to see what the community there is like in person.

  5. am I misunderstanding something - the article itself says muslim extremists were allowed to "shut down" the only other synagogue in the country 1-2 years ago. is someone suggesting that letting one lone community exist becomes tolerant - in contrast to what happened to the other one????

  6. Let's hope they get out soon.

    Physically, mentally, and emotionally comfortable in Galuth often equals arresting of spiritual development.

    Eretz Yisrael is the homeland of the Jewish People, not Indonesia.

    I hope they don't have to learn the hard way, when things go sour,...and they will, just like they did in Germany & South Africa, and how they will in the U. S.


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