Commercial ties in South China brought Jewish merchants to the port
of Hong Kong for centuries, but a real Jewish presence did not arrive
until 1842, when Hong Kong became a British Crown Colony. The Sassoon
family, a wealthy Sephardic dynasty whose mercantile empire extended across Asia, and the Kadoorie
family, another prominent Sephardic dynasty, moved their business to
Hong Kong in 1842. They procured mostly Jewish employees, mainly of
Baghdadi origin, to encourage Jewish population growth. Fifteen years
later, in 1857, the Hong Kong Jewish community was formally established.
The Ohel Leah Synagogue, built by Sir Jacob Sassoon, opened in 1901,
and the Jewish Club, built by the Kadoorie family, also opened during
the early 1900s. The Jewish population, which had totaled 60 Sephardim
in 1882, grew to 100 in 1921 (mostly Sephardim), and 250 in 1954 (half Sephardim and half Ashkenazim).
Growth then slowed, and the population numbered only 230 in 1959, and
200 in 1968, (70 Sephardim and 130 Ashkenazim).
Expansion of the Hong Kong Jewish community was temporarily halted
during the WWII Japanese occupation, which began in December 1941 and
lasted to the end of the war. Those who did not leave before the Japanese
arrived were interned at the Stanley Barracks. The Japanese looted the
Jewish Club, which was torn down after the war and rebuilt in 1949.
But the Ohel Leah Synagogue survived the war as a warehouse.
In the late 1800s, Matthew Nathan, a Jewish major in the British Royal
Engineers, began developing a dirt road through the Kowloon district
which would later become the sparkling Nathan Road, a major commercial
center and a "neon capital" of the world. Nathan was later
knighted by the Queen of England, and became the first and only Jewish
governor of Hong Kong in 1904. In addition to Nathan Road, Jewish engineers
and businessmen have also developed the Starry Ferry, the Harbor Tunnel
and the Peak Tramway - essential segments of the Hong Kong transportation
The New Territories, Hong Kong's rural backcountry, also sports a Jewish
presence. The Kadoorie Experimental and Extension Farm conducts research
on high-elevation farming techniques and animal husbandry, and has earned
recognition as a premier research center. After eliminating the traditional
swayback of the Hong Kong pig, Lord Kadoorie reportedly said, "We
Kadoories know everything about pigs but the taste."
In 1974, it was stated that the Ohel Leah Synagogue and the Jewish Recreation Club in Hong Kong had a combined membership of some 450, but two years later the number was given as a mere 200.
Today, three of Hong Kong's four synagogues are served by rabbis. In
1995, a Jewish Community Center, replacing the Jewish Club, was built
adjacent to the Ohel Leah Synagogue. Ohel Leah was restored to its original
grandeur in 1998. Its many Torah scrolls include five found in Cat Street,
Hong Kong's famous thieves' market, in 1974, believed to have originated
in the former Kaifang Jewish community, which disintegrated around 1860.
The Jewish Community Center houses a library, a kosher restaurant, and
recreational facilities, and organizes most of the Jewish activities
in the area. There are two Jewish schools: the Carmel school for children
up to eight years old and the Ezekiel Abraham school for older children.
Hong Kong's development as a prosperous business center has attracted
thousands of foreigners, including many Jewish families from the United
States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. The Hong Kong Jewish community experienced rapid growth
in the last decade and the population now numbers between three and
four thousand. Americans, Englishmen and Israelis constitute two-thirds
of the community. The Hong Kong community experiences no anti-Semitism,
and the 1997 transfer of power from Great Britain to China posed no problems.
Israel and China established formal relations in 1992, but since the 1960s,
Israel has appointed an unofficial Honorary Consul to Hong
Sources: Beker, Avi, ed. Jewish
Communities of the World. 1998-1999 edition. Jerusalem:
the World Jewish Congress, 1998.
Beth-Hatefutsoth: The Nahum Goldmann
Museum of the Jewish Diaspora
Leowenthal, Rudolf. Hong Kong. Encyclopedia
Judaica. CD-ROM Edition. Judaica Multimedia. 1995.
Tigay, Alan M., ed. The
Jewish Traveler: Hadassah Magazine's Guide to the World's
Communities and Sights. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson,