Burma has been our home since 1890 or even earlier, when my great-grandparents left Baghdad to start a new life in the vibrant city of Rangoon.
During World War II, my grandfather, Isaac Samuels, risked his life for the synagogue, and today we still revere the same building, which has been at the center of Jewish life in Burma for the last century.
Every day, my father, Moses Samuels, sits in the quiet synagogue, waiting to greet Jewish visitors and share with them the rich and unique history of theJewish community here. Every Friday, my father and I used to wait at the synagogue for Jewish visitors until we can gather a minyan to begin services.
My father posted this sign on the front door of the synagogue: “A tree may be alone in the field, a man alone in the world, but a Jew is never alone on his holy days.” It is my father’s fervent belief that no Jew should be alone during the holidays – and yet most of the time, the two of us found ourselves alone in the synagogue.
But even if only he and I are present, I always feel the echoes of the many Shabbat services that have taken place in this beautiful shul, and hear the melodies of the songs our grandparents used to sing when the community was at its peak.
Jewish life in Burma today is quite different from what it was during colonial times. Before World War II, it still was the case that “the sun never set” on the British Empire, including in Southeast Asia.