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The first recorded Jew in the country was Solomon Gabirol, who served as a commander in the army of King Alaungpaya in the 18th century.[1]

In the 19th century, Jewish merchants from India began establishing sizable communities in Rangoon and Mandalay. This included Baghdadi Jews, Cochin Jews, and the Bene Israel. Under British rule, the local Jewish community prospered with small businesses, and trading in cotton and rice.[2] With the Japanese invasion in 1942, many Jews fled to India. Though the Japanese were allies of the Nazis, they did not have any particular antipathy towards the Jews. At the same time, they viewed the local Jews with suspicion as a pro-British and a "European" group. Following nationalization of businesses in the 1964, the community suffered further decline, with many members moving to other countries.[3] The country's last rabbi left in 1969.

As of 2002, only 20 Jews remained in Yangon, the capital city. Most Burmese Jews have immigrated to Israel.[4] The local Jews use the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, but it rarely draws the required quorum of men for a full religious service. Often, employees of the Israeli embassy help synagogue keeper Moses Samuel maintain regular service.

In the north of Burma, on the Indian border, the Mizo people, who are ethnically descended from Tibet have taken on the belief that they descend from the lost tribe of Menashe, based on certain traditions shared with Judaism. Those who have converted intend to immigrate to Israel. Many have embraced Orthodox Judaism and have settled in Judea, Samaria, and Gush Katif. They are known as the Bnei Menashe.

Burma is the first Asian nation to recognize Israel and maintains diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Israel opened its first Diplomatic mission in Yangon in 1953, and in 1957 it became an embassy. Both nations shared a Socialist outlook in their early years and held extensive contacts between their respective leaders.[5]

References

  1. ^ Secret Yangon II: The Lost Tribe: ThingsAsian
  2. ^ McDonald-Gibson, Charlotte "Myanmar Jews count on tourism" Globe and Mail 12/02/2006 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061202.SYNAGOGUE02/TPStory/specialTravel
  3. ^ Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002
  4. ^ Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002
  5. ^ Freedman Cerna, Ruth "Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma" P. 122

Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma" Lexington Books, 2007

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