The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam and located in Southeast Asia, has always been a welcoming place for Jews. Despite recent terror threats, thousands of Israelis travel to Thailand annually and there is a strong orthodox presence thanks to Chabad in many of the large cities. Today, the permanent Jewish population in Thailand is approximately 200.
- Relations with Israel
- Thai-Israel Friendship Foundation (TIFF)
Thailand, a country 95% Buddhist, has always been
a nation that stood for religious tolerance. Jewish settlers have always
been welcomed in Thailand and free to practice their own customs. Spanish
missionaries first reported the presence of Jewish merchants in Siam
in 1601, in the Kingdom of Ayuthaya. These Jews were reported to have established a synagogue and to be living “zealous in the Law of Moses.” In 1683,
Abraham Navarro, the first documented Jew to live in Thailand, arrived
as an interpreter for the English East India Company. It is also known
that Navarro visited the Court of King Narai in Lopburi. During the
1800s, most Jews who arrived in Thailand came as merchants traveling
throughout the East.
In 1890, a few European families settled in Bangkok
during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Among these families
were the Rosenbergs who developed the first modern hotels in Bangkok,
including the Europe Hotel. Russian Jews fleeing Soviet discrimination
arrived in Thailand in the 1920s from Harbin. Among these Russian Jews,
was Haim Gerson, who was a very prominent businessman in Thailand and
led the Jewish community for several decades. In the 1930s, approximately
120 German Jews, escaping Nazism, settled in Thailand. However, most
of these immigrants left after World
War II. During World War II, several Jewish families arrived from Syria and Lebanon.
Amid the Syrian immigrants was Isaac Djemal, who later served as the
President of the Jewish community. Selim Eubhani, Djemal’s nephew,
would also serve as the community’s lay leader and conduct religious
services. During the war, nearly 150 Allied Jews were imprisoned in
the Japanese POW camp in Kanchanburi. Among the prisoners was a rabbi who would lead services.
The Jewish population began to thrive in the 1950s
and 60s with the arrival of Jews from America, Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Iran. In 1964, the Jewish
Community of Thailand was established.
The Vietnam War in the 70s brought an influx of Jewish
American soldiers to Thailand. Numerous Israeli families also immigrated
to Thailand during the 1970s, in search of business opportunities and
adventure. These Israelis came to Thailand to work mainly in the gem
and jewelry trade. Many Israeli businesses were opened in Thailand in
trading and advising the Thai government on agricultural issues. Joint
projects introduced Thailand to new methods of irrigation and agricultural
products suitable to the climate in Thailand. It was also during this
period that the Jewish community instituted a religious school, weekly
services and social events.
Today, Thai Jewry numbers approximately 300 inhabitants
and continues to grow. Most Jews in Thailand are of European and Asian
origin, with a limited number being Thai nationality. There are a mixture
of Sephardim from Syria,
Lebanon, and Israel, as well as Ashkenazim from Europe,
America, and Shanghai.
Almost all of the Jews are involved in the trading industry and production
of precious jewelry. Virtually all the Jews in Thailand live in Bangkok,
There are three synagogues in Bangkok (Ashkenazic
and Sephardic synagogues and a Chabad House) as well as Chabad Houses
in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui. All four Chabad Houses provide regular Shabbat prayer services (Chabad Bangkok as weekly services as well) and they all contain kosher restaurants.
Rabbi Yosef Kantor
The Ashkenazic synagogue, Beth Elisheva, was consecrated
in 1979. Elizabeth Rosenberg Zerner (Thai born daughter of the first
Jewish citizens, the Rosenbergs) donated the piece of property for the
establishment of an Ashkenazic synagogue. The synagogue was named Beth
Elisheva in honor of Elizabeth Zerner. The synagogue also maintains
the Jewish Community of Thailand Community Centre, and a mikveh.
During the community presidency of Ebrahim Kashani, the synagogue consecrated
the first Jewish cemetery in Thailand. The Ashkenazic synagogue maintains
a Sunday and nursery school, as well as a permanent rabbi, Rabbi Yosef
Kantor. Rabbi Kantor arrived in Thailand in 1993, along with his wife
Nechama Dina. Adult classes on Judaism are available in both Hebrew
and English. The English classes are held every other week after a communal
barbecue. There are several restaurants and markets where kosher food
The Sephardic synagogue, Even Chen, was the first official
congregation established in the 1970s. The synagogue, club and kosher
restaurant attached to the synagogue are also under the supervision
of Rabbi Kantor. The synagogue provides daily morning and evening minyans.
There are also regular Friday evening and Shabbat morning, afternoon,
and evening services.
The Bangkok Chabad House, Ohr Menachem, was consecrated
in 1995. It is a popular location for travelers, and well-known for
its community seders and holiday celebrations. Hundreds of tourists,
from all over the world, have come to Thailand to celebrate religious
holidays. This Chabad House is visited by one of the largest numbers
of Jewish backpacking tourists in the world, especially Jews from Israel.
Services are led by Rabbi Nechamya Wilhelm. In 2009, the Bangkok Chabad House had the second largest Passover seder ever recorded, with more than 1,000 people attending the service and meal.
Relations with Israel
The Israeli Embassy is located in Bangkok, as both
nations share full diplomatic relations. Formal diplomatic relations
between the two countries were established on June 23, 1954, and were
strengthened with the opening of the Embassy of Israel in Bangkok in
1958 and of the Royal Thai Embassy in Tel Aviv in 1996.
two countries have nurtured a strong bond
of friendship, mutual understanding, and
bilateral cooperation in the public sphere,
as well as at a people-to-people level in
various fields of endeavor including education,
agriculture, public health and economy.
The bilateral relations were demonstrated notably
by a number a memorable and historical state visits of Thai dignitaries
to Israel, including the Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and Princess Maha
Chakri Sirindhorn. These gestures of goodwill were reciprocated by visits
to Thailand by Israeli prominent public figures such as Israel Defence
Force Chief of Staff Mr. Yitzhak Rabin and Mr. Abba Eban.
Israel, which confronts complex modern social and
economic realities, has always perceived Thailand as a nation sharing
the challenge of alleviating such universal problems as drought, poverty
and the need for improved rural development. The two nations have worked
on the advancement of both countries’ primary education, reforestation,
irrigation techniques and fish farming. A large number of high-level
Thai officials have visited Israel on study tours and training courses
extended by MASHAV,
the Israeli agency for international cooperation.
Since the beginning of MASHAV's activity in Thailand
in the mid-1960's, more than 2,000 Thai professionals have participated
in courses in Israel, mainly in agriculture and education. A large number
of experts and trainees have also participated in Mashav on-site courses
in Thailand. Dozens of Thai schools have built their educational curriculum
based on Israeli experience and know-how. In January 2004, the long-standing,
historic cooperation with Khon Kaen University came again into expression
when HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn inaugurated a jointly developed
Israeli-Thai agro-technology experimental farm for irrigation of high
value crops on its grounds.
The peoples of Thailand and Israel are very familiar
to each other. In 2003, Thailand hosted some 100,000 Israeli tourists
who chose it as their prime holiday destination. A significant number
of Thai workers are employed in Israel’s agricultural sector.
A growing number of Thai agriculture college students attend innovative
training programs in Israel, which were initiated in 1997 as part of
a unique joint project under the patronage of the Thai Ministry of Education.
Thai-Israel Friendship Foundation (TIFF)
The Foundation had its beginning in 1972 when a group
of 13 former Thai students and trainees in Israel gathered at the First
Hotel in Bangkok and decided to form a Thai-Israel Friendship Group.
The main objective of the group was to create a bond of friendship within
a nucleus of those who have benefited from studying and training in
Members of the foundation came from those who had
trained and studied in various fields, such as agriculture, medicine,
education, early childhood education, rural development, water resources
and irrigation, and labor development. Membership of the group expanded
and activities to put the members’ knowledge and experience to
good use were initiated with close cooperation and support from the
Israel Embassy on Thailand.
While the group’s activities cover a wide range
of development and cultural topics, the main thrust has been in the
field of education, with emphasis on early childhood education.
A training certificate course was successfully organized
in 1976 for teachers and educators on the techniques of early childhood
education, pre-school childhood development, and teaching aids. The
first study tour was organized for 35 Thai teachers to receive training
at the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC)
In 1984, the group became officially registered as
a nonprofit, non-governmental Foundation and received a donation of
a 5 ½ rai plot of land from a benefactor none other than the
Foundation’s own Chairperson of the Early Childhood Education
Group, Archan Chawiwan Chungchareon. The plot is intended by her for
future establishment of a long dreamed of demonstration school project
modeled on the Israeli early childhood education system. One year later
the Foundation had the good fortune to be gracious taken under the royal
patronage of H.R.H. Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn on November 21, 1985.
Since its establishment the TIFF has initiated dozens of cultural activities
all over Thailand.
The Jewish Community of Thailand Community Centre
Beth Elisheva Syn. Bldg.
121 Soi Sai, Nam Thip 2, (Soi 22) Sukhumvit Rd.
Tel: (2) 258-2195.
Pres.: Michael Gerson.
Tel : (2) 252-7209
Thai-Israel Friendship Foundation
Sukhumvit Soi 27
Klongtoey Nua,Wattana, Bangkok 10110
Tel. 02-258-2587, 02-661-6118, 02-2590350
Kosher Store and Bakery
223 Soi Sai, Nam Thip 2 (Soi 22)
Tel: (2) 663-8719
Restaurant: Ohr Menachem-Chabad House
108/1 Ram Buttri Rd, Kaosarn Road,
Tel. (2) 282-6388
Fax (2) 629-1153
Supervision: Rabbi Y. Kantor
Even Chen Synagogue
The Bossotel Inn
55/12-14 Soi Charoenkrung,
42/1 New Road.
Tel. (2) 630-6120
Fax. (2) 237-3225.
31 Soi Lang Suan
Ploenchit Rd., Bangkok
Beth Elisheva Synagogue
121 Soi Sai, Nam Tip 2,
(Soi 22) Sukhumvit Rd.
Tel. (2) 258-2195
Fax (2) 663-0245
Email: Rabbi Yosef Kantor email@example.com
Close to Imperial Queens Park, Jade Pavilion and Sheraton Grand Hotel
Ohr Menachem- Chabad House
Chabad Kaosarn Rd
108/1 Ramburthi Rd.
Tel. (2) 282-6388.
Daily services, Friday eve. Tel. (2) 258-2195.
Chabad House of Chiang Mai
Rabbi Moshe Haddad
189/15 Chang-Clan Road
On street of Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Mobile (661) 870 2249
Shabbat Services followed by meals
Daily Kosher Restaurant
Chabad House of Koh Samui
Gaon Maatuf, Rabbi
162/3 Chaweng Beach
Moo -2 T. Bophut
Telephone: (661) 824 0588
Shabbat Services followed by meals
Daily Kosher Restaurant
Sources: AmyIsrael; World
Zaidner, Michael. Jewish
Travel Guide 2000. Intl Specialized
Book Service, 2000
Photo Credits: Synagogue and Rabbi courtesy
Designs; Wat Arun Temple - photographer credit D Ramey Logan