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The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish News

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Opposition leader speaks on Hizb utTahir

CANBERRA, 21 July –  Australian opposition Leader Tony Abbott has conceded that members of Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir hold concerning views, but as long as they do not incite terrorism, the group has a place in Australian society.

Speaking to radio shock jock Alan Jones last week, Abbott said if reports that the group was
agitating to establish an Islamic caliphate were correct, it would be “abominable, absolutely abominable”.

But he continued: “The general principle in this country is that we don’t punish bad thoughts, we don’t even punish bad words, as long as those words don’t amount to incitement to break the law.”

Hizb ut-Tahrir ­ an international Islamist group that has a small branch in Australia ­ is banned
in some countries, mostly in the Middle East. It has come under fire on a variety of fronts, not
least because of its anti-Semitic rants. and calls for the eradication of the Jewish State.
The Bangladesh arm of the group released a statement earlier this year calling on Muslims to
“teach the Jews a lesson” and “march forth to  fight them, eradicate their entity and purify the earth of their filth”.

In 2007, then attorney-general Philip Ruddock oversaw an investigation into possible terrorist
links with the local branch, but eventually decided not to proscribe the group.

Abbott said the group has very limited support in  this country at the moment, and argued the
mainstream Muslim community is not behind it. “My  hope, my expectation, my confidence is that this  is a minority view among Australian Muslims, but I’ve got to say anything that looks like an incentive, an incitement to break the law, is something [that] should certainly attract the very closest interest from the law enforcement agencies.”

Hizb ut-Tahrir has come back into focus after hosting a conference in Sydney earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said it would be inappropriate to
confirm or deny whether the group is under investigation by Australia’s intelligence agencies.

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Union for Progressive Judaism condemns Israeli Convdersion Bill

MELBOURNE, 22 July – The local Union for  Progressive Judaism (UPJ) has added its voice to global Reform and Conservative condemnation of attempts to push a conversion Bill through the Knesset.

Sponsored by Yisrael Beitenu MK David Rotem, the Bill would delegate the authority to municipal rabbis to carry out conversions to, in an attempt to streamline the conversion process for non-Jewish Israelis.

The Bill’s opponents complain that the same clause effectively provides legal backing for the
authority of the Orthodox rabbinate over all conversions, and threatens the status of those
who converted overseas through non-Orthodox rabbis.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, signed by UPJ president David Robinson and other senior officials, Progressive Judaism’s Asia-Pacific roof body expressed “great disappointment and shock” at news that Rotem had taken action to drive the Bill through the Knesset without coordination with representatives of all streams of Judaism.

Rotem’s action also drew the condemnation of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who had been working to bridge Diaspora and Israeli concerns over the Bill since it was proposed earlier in the year.  While American Jewish organisations have been most vocal in speaking out against the Bill, the UPJ rejected Rotem’s view that some concerns about the proposed legislation are solely American, writing “We believe that it is important for you to know that the grave concerns expressed about this legislation extend far beyond the United States .

“We join the leadership of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in viewing this Bill in its
current form as an affront to all Progressive and Conservative Jews.”

The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) also weighed into the debate. ZFA president Philip
Chester wrote a letter to Netanyahu, warning that the passage of such legislation “would do
incalulable harm to the unity of the Jewish people”.

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, the advocacy arm of the Progressive movement in Israel, told The AJN during a recent visit to Australia that those
parts of the Bill “bring us back from our tremendous achievement [in Israel’s Supreme Court] of six years ago that allReform and Conservative conversions all around the world are recognised in Israel for purposes of aliyah.”

Rotem, defending the Bill on Monday, told The Jerusalem Post that he was unwilling to delay
resolving a problem that affects thousands of immigrants.

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Controversy or birthright

SYDNEY,  23 July – Australian Birthright program organisers have rejected reports in the
international media claiming a recent group visit to Hebron was “unprecedented”.

An article, first published in the New York Jewish Week last week, reported that the trip
made by the Australian Chabad Campus Birthright  group earlier this month also “raised questions about whether the program has shifted policy on visits to the West Bank”.

But Rabbi Yehudah deVries, who is responsible for the Australian Chavaya Taglit-Birthright Israel trips for Chabad Campus students, said that those undertaking the extended program for longer than the 10-day free trip have always visited Hebron, with the exception being the past two years.

Rabbi deVries explained he was approached by Birthright’s official trip organiser, Israel
Experience, to arrange the visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs, or Ma’arat HaMachpela, the site
where ­ according to the Torah ­ Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca and Leah are buried.

“The entire 10-day program was submitted for Taglit’s approval, as always, and was, as always, approved.

“This includes security approval,” he explained.

“The trip went ahead and was run according to exact security requirements,”

Rabbi deVries said security would not have been approved if the army, police and education
department had deemed the visit to be a potential risk.

“If we can visit Kibbutz Misgav Am, which is in the firing range of Hezbollah on the Lebanese
border; we stand on a Golan Heights border lookout at Mizpe Gadot and look into Syria, then why make a point ofHebron being either dangerous or political?” Rabbi deVries questioned.

And as for the politics of the visit?

“Politics should not be brought to the groups. Taglit-Birthright Israel is most young people’s
first experience of the land of Israel. Let them see as much as possible . and let them make
informed decisions based on their own intellect and experience,” he said.

The Zionist Federation’s Israel Programs coordinator Brendan Bensky said the visit formed
part of the Chabad Campus group’s Jewish historical aspect and was approved by Birthright.
This trip was the first time an Australian group undertook the Birthright program mid-year.

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Israel a point of difference in Australian election campaign

CANBERRA, 23 July – Just two days into the election campaign, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott touted his party’s “unshakable commitment” to Israel.

Speaking at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch in Melbourne on Monday, Abbott took the opportunity to criticise the Rudd-Gillard Government’s record towards Israel.

“I have to say that it’s a little disappointing, given the deep affinity between the Australian
people and the Israeli people that the current Australian Government has somewhat weakened our longstanding bipartisanship on Israel,” Abbott said before the crowd of more than 1000
businesspeople and Liberal Party faithful.

“I want to reiterate here today, the Coalition’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and I want to assure you that a Coalition government would never support a one-sided United Nations resolution against Israel to curry favour with an anti-Israel majority in the General Assembly,” he said.

He continued: “And we would never overreact to any international incident, because we appreciate that Israel is under existential threat in a way that almost no other country in the world is.”

He told guests, including dozens of the nation’s finest journalists, who were following Abbott’s
campaign trail, that Australia needs to appreciate that “a diminished Israel diminishes the West”.

The Opposition Leader also used the opportunity to pay tribute to the achievements of the local Jewish community. He commented that Australia is the only country in the world, apart from Israel, where Jewish people have occupied the highest offices, including as the governor-general.

Among guests at the Crown Casino lunch were Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, Shadow Minister for Finance Andrew Robb, Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu and former treasurer Peter Costello.

Costello, who travelled with Julia Gillard to Israel last year for the Australia-Israel
Leadership Forum, delivered the vote of thanks, endorsing his former cabinet colleague’s tilt at the top job.

“Tony Abbott is a man of commitment and a man of drive,” Costello said. “I know he was party of a very successful government, I don’t know that about Julia Gillard.”

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Canadian MP Calls on Australia to charge Iran with conspiracy to commit genocide

MELBOURNE, 22 July-  Australia should be the first country to refer Iran to the United Nation Security Council, a senior Canadian politician said this week.

Irwin Cotler delivered keynote addresses and met politicians from both sides this week during a whirlwind tour of Australia supported by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC).

The human rights law professor and former Canadian attorney-general said Australia, as a
signatory to the United Nations genocide convention, needs to “exercise leadership” and
refer Iran to the UN Security Council for conspiracy to commit genocide.

When probed as to why his country, which for many years has been outspoken on preventing genocide, would not do that itself, Cotler said “political leaders live in an insular bubble where issues of the day overwhelm these issues”.

“The country that does it first will be applauded by history,” he told the audience

He added that if Australia did refer Iran for investigation, Canada would certainly support the move.

Cotler, who chairs the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which recently completed a report on “The danger of a nuclear, genocidal and rights-violating Iran, said the evidence is
available to indict Iran over conspiracy to commit genocide.

The report states: “Repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and ‘prophecies’ of its
demise all work to normalise the idea of genocide in the minds of the Iranian people. Articulated in the context of demonising rhetoric implying a clash of civilisations, calls for the
annihilation of the Jewish State begin appearing not only moral and justifiable, but natural as well.”

Asked why, if the evidence is clear, Iran has managed to escape scrutiny, Cotler replied: “It
certainly does make a mockery of international law and it sustains a culture of impunity”.

“The Iranian regime can intensify incitement, knowing they won’t be held to account,” he said.

Cotler added that it is not just through incitement to genocide that the Iranian regime
threatens global stability. He said suspected nuclear weapons development, Iran’s sponsorship
of terrorist organisations and violations of the rights of the Iranian people were four distinct
threats posed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Ashley Brown selected for Australia Under 19 Football training squad

Ashley Brown joined North Caulfield Maccabi Junior Football club in 2010 and is a part of the
successful U18 Youth Development Programme, and plays in the Boys U16 and Under 18 competition.

Ashley will hopefully be selected later this year to once again compete in the Asian Qualifiers. She has just returned from the FFA Nationals in Coffs Harbour where she competed in the Victorian U17 girls team and was selected in the All Stars team (representing the best players of the tournament). Ashley has a long and impressive  record of achievement on the football filed.

In 2006, Ashley aged 11 made the Victorian Primary Schools State soccer team, and was
included in the National Training Centre in Victoria for advanced players. At the time she
was the youngest player ever to be included in that squad.

In 2007, aged 12 and in 2008 aged 13, she was part of the Victorian State u15 team. In 2008 she was selected in the U17 Australian Team and travelled to Malaysia to compete in the Asian
Qualifiers. She was in the starting lining up playing against Thailand and Myanmar and the team finished top of their group. In 2009 Ashley won the Maccabi Victoria Deloitte’s Rising Star Award and in 2009, she was selected again in the Australian U 17 squad for the Asian Qualifiers (but unfortunately had to withdraw three days before due to injury). In
January 2009 Ashley represented Victoria in the National Futsal Championships.

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Tragic end to World Cup trip

MELBOURNE, 23 July–A local teenager critically injured in a diving accident in Malaysia died in Melbourne on Thursday.

On Tuesday, an air ambulance carried 14-year-old Reagan Milstein and his mother Tamara home from Singapore, where he had spent 18 days in hospital in a critical condition.

Upon arrival, he was taken straight to Melbourne’s Monash Medical Centre, where he remained in intensive care.

His mother Tamara said on Tuesday that while the family were very relieved to have their son
safely home, they now “embark upon the next stage of this sad journey where the road ahead will be very difficult and filled with uncertainty”.

“The family would like to express their immense gratitude to friends, family and the wider
community who have provided so much comfort and  support and helped them all cope during this tragic time,” she said.

Tributes flooded in to the Facebook group ‘Regan’s Recovery’. Family, friends and other
members of the community had been posting their wishes and prayers on the Facebook page since the accident.

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Australian Education Minister stand on Holocaust Studies

CANBERRA, 26 July – Despite lobbying from the Jewish community, Education Minister Simon Crean failed last weekend to commit to compulsory Holocaust education in Australian schools.

Speaking to a standing-room only audience at the opening of the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s
refurbished main exhibition on Sunday, Crean praised the efforts of curator Jayne Josem.

“What struck me coming in was the joy, the happiness and the pride when I came in, but
you’re quickly brought back to perspective when you’re taken through the museum,” said the minister, whose full portfolio takes in education, employment, workplace relations and social inclusion.

Moving on to political matters, Crean discussed the draft national curriculum, which is open for public consultation until July 30. He outlined the option of year 10 students undertaking a
study of the Holocaust as part of their history classes.

“It is vital that our children are aware of the past and that they learn from the past,” he said.

But despite lobbying from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for Holocaust studies to be made compulsory, the Member for Hotham did not give any indication this would be happening.

“All students in year 10 will undertake a depth study of war and peace in the 20th century, this
includes the impact of World War II on the modern world and will give students the chance to study the history of the Holocaust,” the former opposition leader said.

He added that the curriculum authority was also charged with building lessons of tolerance and respect into the curriculum, which is set to be unveiled later this year.

“Good education does help deliver a good citizen [and] the Jewish Holocaust Centre does a great job in fostering that understanding and that belief in tolerance and acceptance and that belief in diversity,” he said.

Speaking immediately before Crean, Josem said that since its opening in 1984, more than a
quarter of a million students have been guided around the centre by a survivor guide. But she
spoke of the challenge with today’s students – who come to the centre with piercings, low-slung shorts, iPods and mobile phones.

“Our job here is to penetrate through their digital armoury and get them to think about why they’ve come.”

The museum’s new interactive story pods and modern presentation, which were developed with the input of survivors, will go some of the way to achieving that.

“They arrive indifferent . but they leave different,” she said.

More than 500 people braved the rain to attend Sunday’s opening, which was held in a marquee alongside the museum, with overflow crowds watching on screens inside the centre. As deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard had accepted an invitation to open the refurbished exhibition, but she sent Crean in her place because of a timing clash/

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

 

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Credit Suisse forfeits $536 million for helping Iran, other countries, circumvent U.S. laws

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Credit Suisse AG, a Swiss corporation headquartered in Zurich, has agreed to forfeit $536 million to the United States and to the New York County District Attorney’s Office in connection with violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and New York state law. The forfeiture is the largest ever entered against an entity for IEEPA violations.

The violations relate to transactions Credit Suisse illegally conducted on behalf of customers from Iran, Sudan and other countries sanctioned in programs administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

A criminal information was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Credit Suisse with one count of violating the IEEPA.  Credit Suisse waived indictment, agreed to the filing of the information, and has accepted and acknowledged responsibility for its criminal conduct.  Wednesday, Credit Suisse also entered into an agreement with OFAC to settle the apparent civil violations of IEEPA and other authorities arising from this conduct.

Credit Suisse agreed to forfeit the funds as part of the deferred prosecution agreements reached with the Department of Justice and the New York County District Attorney’s Office and in settlement of the civil claims with OFAC.

“One of this administration’s top priorities is to employ our resources aggressively to hold accountable those who engage in financial misconduct,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “Credit Suisse’s decades-long scheme to flout the rules that govern our financial institutions robbed our system of the legitimacy that is fundamental to its success. Today’s announcement sends a strong message that we will not let this type of conduct stand.”

Under IEEPA, it is a crime to willfully violate, or attempt to violate, any regulation issued under the act, including the regulations related to Iran, Sudan, Burma, Cuba and Libya.

According to court documents, beginning as early as 1995 and continuing through 2006, Credit Suisse, in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, altered wire transfers involving U.S. sanctioned countries or persons.  Specifically, according to court documents, Credit Suisse deliberately removed material information, such as customer names, bank names and addresses, from payment messages so that the wire transfers would pass undetected through filters at U.S. financial institutions.  Credit Suisse also trained its Iranian clients to falsify wire transfers so that such messages would pass undetected through the U.S. financial system. This scheme allowed U.S. sanctioned countries and entities to move hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system.

For its Iranian clients, Credit Suisse promised that no message would leave the bank without being hand-checked by a Credit Suisse employee to ensure that the message had been formatted to avoid U.S. filters. If an Iranian client provided payment messages that contained identifying information, Credit Suisse employees would remove the detectable information so that the message could pass undetected through OFAC filters at U.S. financial institutions. According to court documents, Credit Suisse’s international communications showed a continuous dialogue about the scheme, assessing how to better process Iranian transactions to ensure increased business from existing and future Iranian clients. For example, in 1998, Credit Suisse provided its Iranian clients with a pamphlet entitled, “How to transfer USD payments”, which provided detailed payment instructions on how to avoid triggering U.S. OFAC filters or sanctions. Additionally, Credit Suisse processed 88 payments for those listed as “Specially Designated Nationals” by OFAC. Specially Designated Nationals are individuals and entities specifically named by OFAC to be subject to U.S. sanctions. Their assets are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

“Through its egregious conduct, Credit Suisse illegally moved hundreds of millions of dollars through the American financial system and actively assisted sanctioned countries in evading U.S. laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.  “In essence, Credit Suisse said to sanctioned entities, ‘We’ve got a service, and that service is helping you evade U.S. banking regulations.’”

“This case provides a timely lesson about how Iran seeks to involve others in deceptive conduct to evade legal and regulatory controls,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey. “Those who do business with Iran expose themselves to the risk, and the consequences, of participating in transactions supporting proliferation, terrorism or sanctions evasion.”

“Investigations involving OFAC regulations and IEEPA violations are often long and complicated and require significant resources,” said Kevin Perkins, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.  “The FBI will work closely with our law enforcement partners and federal regulators to ensure compliance with federal banking laws and regulations and to promote the highest level of transparency across financial institutions worldwide.”

“In the world’s increasingly complex financial markets, it’s critical that global institutions follow U.S. law, including sanctions against other countries,” said Steve Miller, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement. “We’re proud our Criminal Investigation agents applied their special money-tracing skills to unmask this deception.”  

The bank’s forfeiture of $268 million to the United States and $268 million to the New York County District Attorney’s Office will settle forfeiture claims by the Department of Justice and the state of New York and civil claims by OFAC related to the misconduct.  In light of the bank’s remedial actions to date and its willingness to acknowledge responsibility for its actions, the Department will recommend the dismissal of the information in two years, provided Credit Suisse fully cooperates with, and abides by, the terms of the agreement.

Throughout the investigation, Credit Suisse has provided prompt and substantial cooperation, including working with regulators to find a method consistent with Swiss law to disclose a significant portion of the data, communications and documentation underlying the misconduct. Credit Suisse has also committed substantial resources to conducting an extensive internal investigation of the misconduct and has agreed to enhance its sanctions compliance programs to be fully transparent in its international payment operations.

The case was prosecuted by Section Chief Richard Weber, Trial Attorneys Frederick Reynolds and Keith Liddle, and supported by Laurie Bender and Karina Lleva of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.   The case was investigated by FBI’s New York Field Office and IRS-Criminal Investigation’s Washington Field Division. The Department of Justice expressed additional gratitude to Bureau Chief Adam Kaufmann, Assistant District Attorneys Gary Fishman, Richard Preiss and Aaron Wolfson of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, Investigation Division Central. The Department of Justice also expressed gratitude to the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the New York Federal Reserve and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for the significant and valuable assistance.

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Preceding provided by the U.S. Department of Justice

Savoring Jewish life in Burma

December 1, 2009 5 comments

Interior of Musmeah Yeshua
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By Sammy Samuels

YANGON, Myanmar–Jewish life in Burma today is quite different from what it was during colonial times, which lasted until World War II.  Before the war, it still was the case that “the sun never set” on the British Empire, including in Southeast Asia. Jewish merchants, who migrated originally to Burma in the late 1800’s, served as a natural conduit between the British colonial rulers and the export–import community abroad. The Jewish community of approximately 2,500 people was a respected presence in business and a valued part of local society. During this “Golden Age” Jewish influence within the government and society as a whole grew rapidly.

Jews were incorporated into the life of the country and played a prominent part in various fields. In tropical Rangoon Jews owned ice factories and bottling plants. Some dealt in textiles and timber, while others were customs officials and traders. Jews held a designated seat on the Rangoon Municipal Committee. The Jewish community in Burma was so influential, in fact, that in the first years of the century, Rangoon and the smaller city of Bassein had Jewish mayors, and Judah Ezekiel Street in downtown Rangoon was named to honor a Jew. The Sofaer family donated the iron gates to the Rangoon Zoo, and another Jew, Mordechai Isaac Cohen, donated the beautiful cast-iron bandstand in Bandoola Square. Both are still standing tall today.

In the center of downtown Rangoon (now Yangon) stood Musmeah Yeshua, the grand synagogue with its soaring ceiling and graceful columns. Musmeah Yeshua, one of 188 sites on the list of Yangon Heritage Buildings, was constructed in the 1890s. The Jewish cemetery, with more than 600 gravestones, and the synagogue with its 126 silver sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) and Jewish school for over 200 students, proclaimed Jewish affluence and comfort in this lush land.

As Jewish wealth grew in those early days, Jewish philanthropy grew as well. The community donated large sums for local schools, libraries, and hospitals and helped local Burmese in many different ways. The Burmese were very appreciative of this aid and the country was a welcome and tolerant home for Jews for many years.

The golden days of Jewish life in Burma came to a close when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Japanese occupation forced most of the Jewish community, along with most of the British colonial population, to flee to other countries. Some Jews returned after the war, but they soon realized that the beautiful life they remembered was no more and their homes and wealth were gone.

Even so, there were promising relations between postwar Burma and the new State of Israel. Burma and Israel both achieved their independence in 1948 and Burma recognized the State of Israel in 1949; it was the first Asian country to do so. Burmese Prime Minister U Nu was the first foreign head of state to visit the newly independent State of Israelin 1955. Six years later, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion spent two weeks in Burma. President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and Shimon Peres also visited Burma.

Despite these cordial relations, Jews found it difficult to regain their lives and re-establish their businesses in Burma after World War II. The Jews of Burma scattered to Israel, Australia, England, and the United States. Since then, the Burmese Jewish community has continued to decrease in population.

Today, only a handful of Jews live in Burma. For more than 35 years, my family has taken care of the synagogue, cemetery, and what remains of the community. Burma and the Jewish community has always been our home since the 1890s or perhaps 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; today, we still revere the same building and its history, which encompasses Jewish life in Burma.

Every day, my father Moses Samuels sits in the quiet synagogue of which he is a trustee, waiting to greet Jewish visitors and to share with them the rich and unique history of the Jewish community of Burma. In particular, every Friday, he  and I  wait at the synagogue for Jewish visitors hoping we will be able to gather the minyan (requisite ten people) to begin services.

My father has posted a 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 belief that no Jew should be alone during the holidays—and yet most of the time, only the two of us can be found in the synagogue. Even if only we two are present, I always feel the echoes of the many Shabbat services that took place in this beautiful synagogue and I hear the melodies of the songs our ancestors sang when the community was at its peak.

We may not be able to return to the glorious days of Jewish life in Burma, but the community believes that, through tourism, we will be able to make a difference in keeping the Jewish spirit alive here. In 2005, we started the travel agency Myanmar Shalom, with the goal of linking Jews around the world to our small community and enabling visitors to explore and experience this beautiful country about which Rudyard Kipling wrote: “This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know.”

Through years of isolation, the country has managed to retain many of its cultural traditions and to preserve much of its historical heritage—making it one of the few remaining places on earth that truly can bring a visitor back in time to experience the Asia of old. Whatever the politics of visiting Burma, tourists will find a nation of gentle folk and smiling people, rich archaeological sites, glittering pagodas, colorful bazaars, and joyous festivals.

Among many other programs, Myanmar Shalom hosted its unique “Southeast Asia through Jewish Eyes.” Cooperating with Lotus Travels we attracted more than 30 participants led by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, creator of “Journeys through Jewish Eyes,” and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Asian Jewish experience.

For many years, the synagogue has not had a local minyan, so the group visit made a difference to this small community—once again filling the Rangoon synagogue with joy and song.

I often think about the “golden days” before World War II, when the synagogue was filled with more than 300 people for all congregational activities — the Jewish holy days, the weddings and bar mitzvah ceremonies. No matter where the descendants of Jews from Burma now live, the synagogue Musmeah Yeshua always will remain an important landmark of Jewish history in Southeast Asia for all of us and a reminder of the very vibrant and lively community that once lived in Burma.

Today, only a few of us are left in Burma, but our Jewish spirit is still alive and our prayer services still continue. I hope that through tourism the Jewish community may begin to revive and that our beautiful synagogue once again will be filled with joy and song as we continue our historic role in the life and welfare of the country.

For more information about the Jewish Community of Burma consult Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma by Dr. Ruth Fredman Cernea or contact us at  www.myanmarshalom.com.