History of the Jews in Indonesia
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The history of the Jews in Indonesia commences with the arrival of early European explorers and settlers. Jews in Indonesia presently form a very small Jewish community of about 100-500, of mostly Sephardi Jews.
Most of Indonesian Jews arrived from the Middle East, Northern Africa and Southern Europe.
In the 1850s, Jewish traveler Jacob Saphir was the first to write about the Jewish community in the Dutch East Indies, after visiting Batavia. In Batavia, he had spoken with a local Jew, who had told him of about 20 Jewish families in the city; and several more in Surabaya and Semarang. Most of the Jews living in the Dutch East Indies in the 19th century were Dutch Jews, who worked as merchants or were affiliated with the colonial regime. However, some members of the Jewish community were immigrants from Iraq or Aden.
Between the two World Wars, the number of Jews in the Dutch East Indies was estimated at 2,000 by Israel Cohen. Indonesian Jews suffered greatly under the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia, and they were interned and forced to work in labor camps. After the war, the released Jews found themselves without their previous property, and many emigrated to the United States, Australia or Israel.
Assimilation and population changes
The same social and cultural characteristics of Indonesia that facilitated the extraordinary economic, political, and social success of the Indonesian Jewish community also contributed to assimilation. Most of Indonesian Jews changed their names into Indonesian names. For Indonesian Jews it was important to change their names into Indonesian names. Most of Indonesian Jews were greatly suffered during the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia. They were forced to work at labor camp,most of them died at camp as well. Some of them left the country,some still stayed in Indonesia. Indonesian Jews were the first race in Indonesia that obligated to change their names and belief. Later Chinese Indonesians had to change their names as well,but the Chinese Indonesians are still allowed to practice Buddhism in Indonesia.
Indonesian Jews lost their properties and very suffered during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia and a lot of native Indonesians became patriotic and most of them were anti non Indonesians (Pribumi anti non pribumi).
Intermarriage rates rose from roughly 55% in 1944 to approximately 90%-99% in 2004. Some intermarried couples raise their children with a local religious upbringing, but it is much more common for intermarried families to raise their children as just culturally Indonesian. Even many Indonesian Jews who have not intermarried have lost much of their distinctive religious culture and belief.
Indonesian Jews also face the challenge of declaring a religion on their government ID cards called KTP (Kartu Tanda Penduduk). Every citizen over the age of 17 must carry a KTP, which includes the holder's religion. Indonesia only recognizes six religions, however: Islam, (non-Catholic) Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. It does not officially recognize Judaism and other religions.
An estimated 2000 descendants of Jews still live in Indonesia, though, as noted, many are losing their historical identity.
The Surabaya synagogue was a synagogue located in the city of Surabaya, provincial capital of Eastern Java in Indonesia. For many years it was the only synagogue in the country. The synagogue had not been active since 2009 and had no Torah Scrolls or rabbi. It was located in Jalan Kayun 6 on a 2.000 m² lot near the Kali Mas river.
The building was a house built in 1939 during the Dutch domination. It was bought by the local Jewish community from a Dutch doctor in 1948 and transformed into a synagogue. Only the mezuzah and 2 Stars of David in the entrance showed the presence of this synagogue. The Indonesian Jewish community is very tiny, with most of it living in the capital of Jakarta and the rest in Surabaya. The community in Surabaya is no longer big enough to support a minyan, a gathering of 10 men needed in order to conduct public worship. The synagogue was totally demolished in 2013. No sign of it was left over. Nevertheless, many Jewish cemeteries still exist around the country in Semarang (center of Java), in Pangkalpinang in Bangka island, in Palembang south of Sumatra and in Surabaya itself.
Since 2003, Shaar Hashamayim synagogue has been serving local Jewish community of some 20 people in Tondano city, Minahasa Regency, North Sulawesi. Currently it is the only synagogue in Indonesia that provides services. Some tiny local Jewish community exist in the area, mostly those whom rediscovered their ancestral roots and converted back to Judaism.
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