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South Korea Virtual Jewish History Tour

South Korea map
[By: Ariel Scheib]

The first Jewish settlement in South Korea was established during the Korean War (1950-1953). Hundreds of American Jews joined the armed forces in protest of the Communist invasion from the North. During the war, Chaim Potok served as a U.S. Chaplain in Korea. It was from these experiences that influenced his later novels, The Book of Lights and I am the Clay.

Chabad has had a presence in the country since 2008.  Most of the present Jewish community in South Korea reside in Seoul. The community is comprised of U.S. military personnel and their families, business people from around the world, English-language journalists and teachers, and welcomes many visitors throughout the year. According to Rabbi Osher Litzman, who has served as Chabad's emissary in South Korea since 2008, there are approximately 1,000 Jews living in the country. Most of the community’s membership is continuously fluctuating, with the departure of some military companies and the arrival of new soldiers. However, since the Korean War a few Jewish families have permanently settled in South Korea and work in various businesses or as teachers, but the majority of the community are transient military soldiers stationed in South Korea until their time of duty is concluded.

South Koreans can learn about Israel and Judaism at the Israel Culture Center in Seoul, which opened in 2000.  High-holiday services normally draw 200 individuals to the Chabad house, and Rabbi Litzman serves approximately 40-50 people per week for Shabbat dinners.  

A limited amount of imported, packaged kosher food is available at some of the larger department stores, such as Shinsegae, Costco, and E-mart.

Israel Aerospace Industries and South Korean manufacturer Hankuk Carbon entered into a Memorandum of Understanding agreement to manufacture vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) in February 2015. The vehicle will have a takeoff weight between 441 and 661 lbs, and will be manufactured for South Korea's domestic sales market.

Israeli and South Korean officials announced on May 25, 2016, that they had reached a consensus and would begin negotiating a free trade agreement.

In 2017 South Korean F-16's were observed dropping Israeli-made bombs during multiple training missions, suggesting that Israel's Rafael had been supplying the South Korean military with equipment.  Rafael does not discuss it's customers, but reports indicate that a deal was signed between Rafael and the South Korean military in 2015.  

During the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, Chabad set up a kosher eatery near the Olympic Village that served various Korean dishes made with Kosher ingredients, schnitzel, hot dogs, and vegetarian items.  

Currently, Israel and South Korea maintain full diplomatic relations. The Israeli Embassy is located in Seoul.

Approximately 800 South Koreans live in Israel.  

Contacts

Jewish Community of the Republic of Korea
GPO Box 7595, Seoul
Tel. 82 2 544 0834,
Fax. 82 2 796 3808

Yongsan Military Garrison
South Post Chapel

Bldg. 3702
Tel. 738-6054/3058
Website: http://yongsan.korea.army.mil/chaplain.asp
Friday night services are held weekly at 7pm. Jewish Activities include holiday celebrations, Passover seders, and High Holy Day services. Civilians should coordinate their participation in advance for access to military installation. Anyone who is not a regular attendee should plan to be at Yongsan Gate #10 by 6:45, with a photo ID, to be signed in to the military base.

The Chabad Jewish Community of the Republic of Korea
744-18 Hannam-Dong
Yongsan-Gu, Seoul
South Korea
Tel. 010-7730-3770
Webstie: Jewish.kr
Rabbi Osher Litzman
E-mail: [email protected]
Shabbat services held Fridays and Saturdays every week.

Israeli Embassy
18th Fl., Cheonggye 11 Building
149 Seorin-dong, Jongro-gu
Seoul 110-726
Tel: 82 2 3210-8500


Sources: World Jewish Congress;
Embassy of Israel-Seoul;
Richard Tomkins. “Israeli, South Korean firms forming JV for UAV production,” UPI(February 3, 2016);
“Israel, South Korea to Begin Free Trade Negotiations,” The Tower, (May 25, 2016); 
Chen Chuanren.  Korean F-16s Upgraded To Carry Israeli Weapon, AIN Online, (November 7, 2017);
Josefin Dolstein.  What it's like to be Jewish in South Korea, Times of Israel, (February 3, 2018).