Jewish community in Yangon celebrates Hanukkah

08 December 2015
Jewish community in Yangon celebrates Hanukkah
Inside the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon. Photo: Esme Vos

The small Jewish community in Yangon is celebrating Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday, for eight days and nights this week at the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue.
“Hanukkah is not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for the people of all faiths to celebrate the common value that we share,” said Sammy Samuels, the caretaker of Yangon’s only synagogue. “The word Hanukkah means dedication. No matter what religion we practice or what beliefs we value – when we light the candle it reminds all of us to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of those around us, spreading the light of freedom and believe that miracles are possible even in the times of darkness.”
“At Hanukkah event – we invite leaders from Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Bahai and Buddhist communities,” he told Mizzima on December 8. “It’s such a beautiful image - all leaders sitting side by side and participating the holiday.  That show unity among us and hope this will continue for many more years to come.”
The synagogue was designed by an architect from Baghdad in the 1850s, and it can hold more than 500 people comfortably. It has no rabbi.
Samuels has previously told the media that there are now only about 20 Jews in Yangon who were born in Myanmar, but the synagogue, while small in numbers, is stable, with a growing community of foreign Jews – about 80 to 100. 
Samuels and his wife were married in the synagogue, the first Jewish wedding in Yangon in 27 years.
Hanukkah is a holiday which marks the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks in the Second Century BC and the recapture of Jerusalem.
During Hanukkah, Jews light candles on a nine-branch menorah every day for eight days - one candle on the first night, two on the second, and so on. The flame from the central candle is used to light the others.
Hanukkah is also marked with special food and games, and the distribution of coins to children.