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The Jewish Community of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

香港

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. 
An autonomous territory south of Mainland China. From 1842 until June 30, 1997 it was a British crown colony. Hong Kong has evolved to become one of the most important financial centers in the world.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish Population in 2018: 2,400 out of 7,500,000.  

United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong
Phone: 852 2523-2985
Fax: 852 2523-2985
Email: ujc@ujc.org.hk
Website: https://ujc.org.hk/

Ohel Leah Synagogue
Website: https://ohelleah.org/ols/


HISTORY

The history of the Jewish community of Hong Kong can be divided into four periods:
1. Pre-1945
2. 1945-mid-1980s
3. Mid-1980s-mid-1990s
4. Mid-1990s-21st century.

PRE-1945

The Sassoon family, whose enormous wealth from the opium trade earned them the nickname the "Rothschilds of the East" (in fact one son, Abdullah/Albert Sassoon, would eventually move to England and marry Aline Caroline de Rothschild), was the first known Jewish family to arrive in Hong Kong; they came when Hong Kong was ceded by China to Great Britain in 1842. Once Hong Kong became a colony of Great Britain, the Sassoons took advantage of the new opportunities that were suddenly available, and moved their offices from Canton to Hong Kong. After their arrival, they worked to develop Hong Kong's port and established a branch of the mercantile and banking organization David Sassoon & Co.

The Hong Kong Jewish Community was formally established in the 1850s; the early community mainly operated out of locations leased by the Sassoon family. Ohel Leah Synagogue (OLS), which was built by Sir Jacob Sassoon and opened in 1902, was the community's first synagogue. The Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1855.

In 1882 the community was made up of 60 Sephardic Jews. By 1921 the Jewish population had grown to 100, the majority of whom were Sefardic Jews.

Sir Matthew Nathan served as the first, and only, Jewish Governor of Hong Kong between 1903 and 1907.

The outbreak of World War II and the subsequent Japanese occupation of Hong Kong put a temporary stop to Jewish life in the area. Many members of the community were interned in Japanese POW camps during the war.

1945-MID-80S

The Jewish population of Hong Kong in 1954 was 250, half of whom were Sephardim and half of whom were Ashkenazim. In 1959 the Jewish population was 230, and in 1968 it was 200, with a total of 70 Sephardim and 130 Ashkenazim.

Beginning in the 1960s, Hong Kong began to develop as a trade and finance center, attracting tens of thousands of foreigners including Jews from the US, Israel, the UK, Australia, and Canada. These new arrivals worked to revitalize the local Jewish community.

MID-1990S-21ST CENTURY

In 1997 there were 2,500 Jews living in Hong Kong; Americans and Israelis made up two-thirds of the Jewish population. By 2010 this number had doubled, with an estimated 5,000 Jews living in Hong Kong, mostly expatriates from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, South Africa, Israel, and Canada.

Seven congregations serve the Jewish community of Hong Kong. The United Jewish Congregation, which was established in 1988, serves Hong Kong’s Reform, Liberal and Conservative Jews. There are Chabad Houses on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau Island. Two more congregations, Kehilat Zion in Kowloon and Shuva Israel, serve Hong Kong's Sephardic Jews. The Ohel Leah Synagogue, which serves the island's Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews, also includes a mikvah (ritual bath) and the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), the epicenter of Jewish communal life in Hong Kong.

The Carmel School Association was founded in 1991 and quickly grew from a playgroup of a dozen children into one of Hong Kong's leading international schools. As of 2011 it is East Asia’s only Jewish day school that also includes a high school. Both Jewish and secular subjects are taught as part of the curriculum. After several moves, the school is based out of three campuses; the JCC campus houses the preschool children ages one to five, the Borrett Road Campus houses the elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade; the newest campus for the Elsa High School is located in Shau Kei Wan, on the east side of Hong Kong Island. The various synagogues also offer alternative Jewish education programs that take place after school, and the UJC runs a well-established Shorashim program.

The JCC was built in 1995 to replace the older Jewish Recreation Club (better known as the JRC). The JCC provides extensive communal programming that covers a broad spectrum of interests from recreational, athletic, academic and cultural. Additionally, the JCC boasts a Judaic library and Sino-Judaic archive. The complex also includes a kosher meat restaurant, dairy restaurant, coffee corner, a kosher market, a large multipurpose room, an indoor swimming pool and a gym. In addition to the JCC’s two kosher restaurants and catering service, kosher food is also available at Kehilat Zion’s Mul Hayam Restaurant in Kowloon, and Shuva Israel’s restaurant in Hong Kong’s central business district.

Jewish life in Hong Kong is enhanced by a number of other organizations and events. The Jewish Women’s Association of Hong Kong, which was initially established during the 1940s to provide aid to Jewish refugees arriving from Shanghai, offers a number of cultural, social and educational programs; it also spearheads fundraising efforts aimed at aiding charitable organizations in Israel and the local Hong Kong community. The Jewish Film Festival is an annual two-week event that draws large audiences, both from within the Jewish community as well as from the broader Hong Kong community. The Jewish Historical Society of Hong Kong (JHS) was founded in 1984. The original goals of the JHS were were to establish a Judaica library for the Hong Kong Jewish community that would include a Sino-Judaic collection; to promote Sino-Judaic cooperation; to document the existing community's records and activities, and to publish research. Subsequent projects undertaken by the JHS include recording, photographing, and translating 300 headstones in the Hong Kong Jewish cemetery, and an ongoing series of taped interviews of the personal experiences and family histories of members of the local Jewish community.

The Jewish community has strong ties to Israel. In 1958 the businessman Victor Zirinsky was appointed as Israel's Honorary Consul in Hong Kong. Zirinsky served until 1985, when Israel’s diplomatic presence was formally established with the appointment of a Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau. Formal diplomatic relations were established between China and Israel in 1992. A local branch of the Israeli youth movement Tzofim (Israeli Scouts) was established in 2010. The Israeli Consulate runs an Israeli Film Festival every three years and there are both youth and adult Maccabi soccer teams. The community also actively participates in programming run by Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA). Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hazikaron are important dates on the community's calendar and are marked by large scale events.

The Jewish Cemetery of Hong Kong is located in Happy Valley, surrounded by high rise apartment blocks; the cemetery's entrance is flanked by a Buddhist temple and its affiliated school. The cemetery was originally dedicated in 1855 and formalized in 1858 by a 999-year Crown Colony lease. It is one of the few Jewish cemeteries in the Far East that remains in its original 19th century location and is still in use. The earliest burial (of Leon Bin Baruel) took place in 1857. Chevra kaddisha records from this period indicate that most of those who died in the Jewish community's early years were single men; it had not yet become common for foreigners to bring their wives and families to live in Hong Kong with them. In 1904 the British granted the Jewish community a 75-year lease on a piece of land adjoining the cemetery; the lease was renewed for another 75 years in 1979. The chapel, purification room, and the other small buildings in the cemetery are believed to date from the period of the new land grant. The gravestones are mostly in Hebrew and English, though there are some written in Arabic, Russian, and Dutch. The tombstones exhibit a variety of styles, representing diverse cultures and various time periods. The cemetery contains approximately 360 graves.

Place Type:
Region
ID Number:
154174
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
Public Passover Seder for the Jewish community
attended by Lord Kadoorie and the community
dignitaries, Hong Kong, 1983
Photo: Ehud Malez, Israel
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ehud Malez, Israel)
Jewish Home for the Aged, Hong Kong, 1983
Photo: Ehud Malez, Jerusalem
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ehud Malez, Jerusalem)
Lord Lawrence Kadoorie and his art collection,
Hong-Kong, 1983
Photo: Ehud Malez, Jerusalem
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ehud Malez, Jerusalem)
Ark of the Law in 'Ohel Leah' Synagogue,
Hong Kong, 1972.
Photo: Ida Cowen, USA.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Courtesy of Ida Cowen, USA)
Jewish children in Talmud Tprah school
with paintings of the flag of Israel made for
the occasion of Israel's 35th Independence Day
celebration, Hong-Kong, 1983
Photo: Ehud Melez, Israel
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ehud Malez, Israel)
Flora Tweig and Daniel Yaakov's Wedding,
Hong Kong 1951
(From the Beit Hatfutsot Photo Exhibition: "Passage Though China: the Jewish Communities of Harbin, Tientsin and Shanghai", 1986)
Flora Toeg wedding party in Hong Kong 1951.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Rivkah Tweig, Israel)
Hilleli Netzer in front of "Ohel Lea"
synagogue, Hong Kong 1953.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Rivkah Toeg, Israel)
View of "Ohel Leha" Synagogue, Hong Kong, 1972
Photo: Ida Cowen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ida Cowen, USA)

Michael (Misha) Kogan (1917-1984), businessman and industrialist, born in Odessa, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire). His family fled the anti-Jewish persecutions and pogroms of the 1920s and settled in Harbin, China. Kogan attended "The First Commercial School" in Harbin
in 1937, and was an active member of the local branch of Betar Zionist youth movement. He then continued his studies at the UMCA college in Harbin and in 1938 went to Japan, where graduated from the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, having acquired an excellent command of the Japanese language and culture.

In 1944 Kogan returned to China settling in Tianjin, where he opened his first company that dealt in natural hair wigs and floor coverings. After the establishment of the Communist regime in China, he returned to Tokyo in 1950. In 1953 he founded Taito Trading Company, later known as Taito Corporation, a company that began by importing and distributing vending machines and then jukeboxes before turning into a video game company and a developer of video game software and arcade hardware. He spent long periods of time in Israel and in Hong Kong. 

During WW2, Kogan was in touch with a number of personalities in Japan, most notably with Yasue Norihiro, a colonel with the Japanese Army's intelligence services and one of the initiators of the "Fugu Plan" of re-settling European Jews in the Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Kogan's archives, known as "Kogan's Papers", contain valuable materials from Japanese sources that relate to the development of the relationship between the Jews and
the Japanese during WW2.

Michael Kogan passed away while on a visit to Los Angeles in 1984.

His widow Asya Kogan nee Kachanovsky (1924-2013) was a major donor to Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh) in Israel.