Jewish Indonesia

Indonesia is comprised of over 17,000 islands. It has a population of 238 million people and the world’s largest population of Muslims.  The first Jews came to Indonesia around 1850 as traders. Today there are perhaps 20 Sephardic Jews still living in the country.

Indonesia’s relationship with Israel is to not allow them into the country, thus holders of Israeli passports are banned from entering Indonesia.

I traveled around Indonesia for a month in 2008. There were few tourists. Indonesia always seems to be getting hit with some natural disaster, including tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanoes, as well as the 2002 and 2005 civilian- and tourist-targeted bombings that killed a few hundred foreigners.

The most common place to visit in Indonesia is Bali. Bali is a Hindu-populated island and tourists often think it to be its own country. Australians make up a large part of the tourists to Bali but when I was there, the Australian currency had taken a large hit and the traveler numbers were down.

One amusing thing for me to observe was watching Muslim kids rebel against their religion. Muslim youth wanting a good party will tell their parents that they are perhaps visiting friends in some other part of the country and then head down to Bali where nightclubs serve alcohol and play western music by night. By day they can hang out on the beach. Their parents would kill them if they found out.

I found the people around Indonesia very warm and welcoming. Sure they hate Israel, but only because the media tells them to.  Most are secular and even the religious ones would probably not have a clue if they saw someone in tallit and tefillin. The people to whom I mentioned that I was Jewish had no clue what Jewish was. I was there over Chanukah, lit Menorah publicly, and sang Hebrew Chanukah songs with no problem.

Kosher food: plenty of delicious fresh fruit, and with over 17,000 islands there is a lot of fresh fish, but don’t bank on finding a kosher restaurant in Indonesia any time soon.

If you do plan on visiting Indonesia make sure there is no current natural disaster. I visited Bromo (an active volcano) and walked to the mouth of the crater. Two days later it blew its stack.

Synagogue Kajoon
Rivka Sayers
6 Djalan Kajoon
Surbaya, 60271
Tel. 315-777-770

*The Synagogue used to have a Torah but the Torah is now in Singapore.

Elias Nissim
Juju Musry, Rosh Kehilla
43 Gemanok
Surbaya, 60271
Tel. 315-777-770

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