Embracing Judaism in Indonesia
A 62-foot menorah graces a mountaintop. Israeli flags flutter from taxi stands. The local synagogue shines after a government-sponsored renovation.
The images don’t immediately bring Indonesia to mind. But a tiny northern outpost in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population “has become the unlikely setting for increasingly public displays of pro-Jewish sentiments,” reports The New York Times, , as a small number of Indonesians embrace the faith of their Dutch Jewish ancestors.
The reclaiming of Judaism in the city of Manado comes as “extremist Islamic groups have grown bolder in assailing Christian and other religious minorities elsewhere in Indonesia,” according to the Times. Last November, extremists protesting the 2008–09 war in Gaza managed to shut down a century-old synagogue in Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city. That left the synagogue near Manado — “founded by Indonesians still struggling to learn about Judaism and now attended by about 10 people,” the Times says — as Indonesia’s sole surviving Jewish house of worship.
To learn more about their heritage, the Jews of Manado joke that they consulted “Rabbi Google”; most of their research on Judaism took place at a local internet café. “They compiled a Torah by printing pages off the Internet,” the Times reports. “They sought the finer points of davening on YouTube.”
Indonesia and Israel, the Times notes, do not have diplomatic relations but have “discreetly shared military and economic ties over the decades.” Jewish businessmen from Israel and elsewhere have quietly traveled to Indonesia seeking business opportunities, the paper reports. A local legislator, in fact, proposed building the giant menorah after learning about the one in front of Israel’s Knesset, according to the Times, hoping “to attract tourists and businessmen from Europe.”