Monday, September 25, 2017

Myanmar’s only synagogue receives blue heritage plaque

Yangon Heritage Trust awarded a commemorative blue heritage plaque to the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon yesterday.

Sammy Samuels (left), Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein (centre) and U Thant Myint-U. Photo: Thiri Lu / The Myanmar TimesSammy Samuels (left), Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein (centre) and U Thant Myint-U. Photo: Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times

The plaque was installed at the synagogue to remember the Jewish community who lived in Yangon for many generations and to recognise the diverse faiths still alive in the city today, said YHT founder U Thant Myint-U.

“The synagogue was part of a once-flourishing Jewish community in Yangon and a reminder that Yangon has always been, since its founding in the 1750s, home to people with connections across the world,” he said yesterday.

“We have dozens of religious sites, belonging to all major religions, in downtown Yangon, and this is something to be proud of and celebrated.”

The first known Jew to have lived in Myanmar was Solomon Gabirol who was a commissar in King Alaungpaya’s army, but it is very likely that Jewish links to Myanmar go much further back, perhaps to the time of the first Roman trading missions to the East nearly 2000 years ago, he said.

Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue was built in Yangon between 1893 and 1896 to replace a wooden structure from 1854. The Jewish community at that time was around 2500 but today there are only a handful of Jews native to Yangon, he added.

The Samuels family takes care of the synagogue, cemetery and what remains of the Jewish community in the city, said U Thant Myint-U.

“I am very proud and very excited for this blue plaque. It does not just show the architectural significance but also recognises the dedication of families and individuals to preserve these buildings,” said caretaker Sammy Samuels.

Monuments and buildings around the city hold the stories of all its different communities, he said.

Ma Shwe Yin Mar Oo from YHT said the organisation has chosen five more heritage buildings to receive blue plaques. Eleven buildings across the city already carry them, including City Hall, AYA Bank headquarters, the Armenian Church, the Central Fire Station, the General Post Office, Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank, the Central Press Building and the Indian Embassy.