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Behind the Headlines the Jews of the Far East

May 29, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Here, in the emporium of the Orient, there is a saying that to build a proper house, one has to have good "fung shui" (favorable wind and water) to exist. The 200-family Jewish community of Hong Kong found and developed the necessary ingredients to build a proper house.

The community, originated from 22 countries, find this hub of Asia the most convenient place from which to do business with the nations of the Orient. Many of them are still China traders. An example is Lord Kadorrie, a member of the famous Jewish family, and chairman of the China Light and Power Company. He is a pillar of the Hong Kong establishment.

It is also recalled here that Sir Matthew Nathan served as Hong Kong’s only Jewish governor early in this century. Indeed, the main thorough fare on the Kowloon side of the island is called Nathan Road, in his honor.


The Jewish presence is focused on the Ohel Leah Synagogue at 70 Robinson Road and the Jewish Recreation Club next door, presented by the Kadorrie family. The grounds are spacious, the atmosphere is warm and the greetings are friendly. This is one Jewish community which goes out of its way to encourage visitors whom it hopes will also use the facilities of the club.

The synagogue building is Sephardic in design: it quickly reminds one that this is the Far East. American Jews are encouraged to attend services at 6:30 every Friday night and at 9:30 Saturday morning in this synagogue built in 1902. On Saturday mornings, services are followed by a kiddush. On a recent trip here, this correspondent met Jews from Australia, Iran, England, the United States and Israel. The "baal Koreh" (reader) was a Sephardic Jew from Israel; another Israeli helped him officiate.

The Jewish community is transient: young IBM-type executives, bankers, engineers, export-import businessmen, and a number of Jews in the diplomatic corps. One big Jewish community event is the Sunday afternoon Bar-B-Q where conversation about children, schools and tennis mingles with steaks and chicken sizzling on outdoor grills. The Bar-B-Q is a meeting place for Jews who want to be with other Jews.


Jews thrive in Hong Kong, the key to Asia, the world’s third largest financial center which boasts the second largest container port. Zim Lines maintains its Far East headquarters here. The island is enterprising, hustling, competitive and business-like. Some say money still is the language spoken in Hong Kong which in English means "fragrant harbor" and which has been and undoubtedly will remain a "golden egg" for the People’s Republic of China.

No one in the Jewish community broods over the Chinese-British agreement which in 12 years calls for returning Hong Kong to China. The general impression among the Jewish congregation is that the Chinese will honor the agreements which state that after 1997 the present system in Hong Kong is to stay in effect for 50 years. Jewish leaders also feel that China is tolerant of religious beliefs and that the Chinese do not renege on agreements.

Besides, China is opening up to the West. It wants trade and supplies, and expansion. China realizes that Hong Kong can provide the bursts of energy that are needed to refuel the one billion people of China. There is today a "capitalist component in China." There is an expansion of privately owned business. If the new system is allowed to flourish, there will be Jews in Hong Kong.

The hotel situation has opened up and tourism is flourishing here. Many Jewish tourists and businessmen stay in the luxurious hotels, such as the centrally-located Mandarin Hotel. They fly from Vancouver aboard Cathay Pacific Airlines which jets to about 30 cities in the Far East alone. Cathay supplies kosher food on request on its flights. The Mandarin Hotel, both in Vancouver and in Hong Kong, can help the kosher traveler.

The Jewish Recreation Club serves kosher-style food. But soon, with the help of C. Berkowitz of South Wind Tours and Travel, that company may supply glatt kosher food to the club and to travelers to the Far East. South Wind, located in New York City, sponsors tours which include glatt kosher food packaged under rabbinical supervision as well as no travel on the Sabbath in its tours to the Far East and China.

There is also kosher-style food at the Beverly Hills Deli adjacent to the Pedestrian Bridge on the Kowloon side of the island. Matzoh ball soup, corned beef and hot pastrami sandwiches are available. Upon request, strictly kosher packages can be obtained there.


There is no reason to doubt that Jewish interest in Hong Kong will be renewed and renewed, just as it has been since the 1842 Treaty of Nanking opened Chinese ports to foreign settlements. It was then that the Sassoon and Kadorrie families and other leading Jewish families whose origins were in Baghdad, pioneered the Jewish settlements in Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Actually, the Hong Kong Jewish community was first established in 1857. The Jews were an intimate part of the rich and variegated life of the China Treaty Ports.

The Jewish population numbered 60 Sephardim in 1882, 100 in 1921 (mainly Sephardim), 250 in 1954 (half Sephardim and half Ashkenazim). Today there are about 200 Jewish families here.

There is a fine Hong Kong Jewish Chronicle newspaper which reports on the activities of the Jews on the island. Over the years, the Hong Kong and Jewish community has had a connection, however small, with the Jewish communities of China.

With China opening up, more research will be done on the Jews of China, especially regarding the Jews of Kaifeng, and the famous "silk route," which brought Jewish traders to the Orient as long ago as the 8th century.

The times may change, but one thing is certain: The Jewish community remains alive under the leadership of of Mark Eljenberg, who, with other leaders, likes to call Hong Kong, "this small outpost of the diaspora."

(Tomorrow: The Jews Of Japan)

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