Myanmar is well-known for its diversity and perhaps the best place to see this is Yangon, the country's largest city. Here visitors can find peoples from most of the nation's many ethnic groups like the Shan, Kachin and Chin. Yangon is also the best place to see Myanmar's different religious groups. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all call Yangon home. But what's less well-known is that Yangon has a Jewish community, albeit one that is tiny and on the brink of extinction.
One of the few remaining examples of the once thriving Jewish culture is the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue. Situated in the Muslim section of town it is the last remaining Jewish house of worship in Myanmar. COCONUTS TV visited the temple to meet Sammy Samuels, one of the temple's caretaker's.
Burmese Jews trace their roots back to Iraq, Iran, Europe and India. Many were merchants who relocated in the 19th century. At its height the community in Yangon numbered 2,500 members and they were so influential that in the first years of the century, Rangoon, as Yangon was then called, had a Jewish mayor.
After the second World War both Burma and Israel achieved their independence and the two young countries were close. Burma was the first Asian nation to recognize the State of Israel. The then Burmese Prime Minister was even the first foreign head of state to visit in 1955. Several years later Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, returned the gesture, spending two weeks in Burma.
In 1962 the Burmese military staged a coup and took control of the country. The new regime nationalized many private businesses, which forced many Jews out of the country. Some left for Israel, others for Australia, Europe and the United States.
Today about 20 Jews live in Myanmar.
Sammy, whose day job is at a travel agency, is the youngest Jew left in the country.