Moses Samuels, longtime leader of Myanmar’s Jewish community, dies

Moses Samuels, the dedicated leader of Myanmar’s small Jewish community, died on Friday in Yangon at the age of 65.

His son Sammy delivered the news in a somber statement over email. Though a cause of death was not given, it is understood that Samuels had for many years battled cancer.

“It is with sadness and regret that I have to announce the death of my father, Moses Samuels who died on 29th May, Friday in Yangon at the age of 65,” Sammy said. “For over 35 years he has been taken care [sic] of Yangon Synagogue and the Jewish community. And he made sure [of] keeping the Jewish Spirit alive in Myanmar. He is great person with very good heart. His legacy will continue to live in the hearts and minds of everyone who came across to know him. May Hashem [the Lord] bless his Soul.”

Samuels was a fixture at the Musmeah Yeshua synagogue (pictured above) in downtown Yangon, whose structure dates to the 19th century. Before his health declined, Samuels played the roles of tour guide, preservationist and caretaker. As any visitor over the years can attest, he welcomed one and all to the beautiful building on 26th street, which, as Myanmar’s only synagogue, represents a depository of Jewish history that endures even as the community itself has shrunk to about two-dozen people.

Like many Jews who lived in Myanmar, Samuels has roots in Iraq. While the Jewish community here flourished for a time in the early 20th century, Japanese bombing assaults during World War II compelled many to leave as did the founding of the state of Israel.

But some families remained.

Samuels, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, kept the synagogue open and cared for. Sometimes, he went by himself to Shabbat prayers. About 10 years ago, Sammy began to take on the responsibility, one that he continues to shoulder to this day.

Even a brief online search for stories about Samuels, the synagogue and Myanmar’s Jewish community yields a trove of articles. Here are a few from the Associated Press, the Jerusalem Post and the New York Times.

Photo: Wikicommons/Adam Jones

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