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Tiny Jewish community lives on in Indonesia
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Tiny Jewish community lives on in Indonesia

In a remote corner of the Indonesian archipelago, a modest synagogue stands in a tiny Jewish community that has found acceptance despite rising intolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

The red-roofed building on Sulawesi island is the only synagogue in the nation of 255 million people. Here, unlike other parts of the country, the Jewish community feel safe to practice their faith openly.

“We can wear the kippah in the mall or anywhere we want, it’s not a problem,” Yobby Hattie Ensel, a Jewish leader from the nearby city of Manado, told AFP.

In Tondano, the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue sits close to several churches and residents of different religions live, work and worship alongside each other without incident.

Indonesia has long been praised for its moderate, inclusive brand of Islam – and this enclave of diversity is a testament to that.

But across the archipelago, intolerance has risen in recent years as more conservative forms of Islam have become popular, driven by increasingly vocal hardline groups.

In 2013, the country’s only other synagogue in the city of Surabaya was demolished. It had been the site of anti-Israel protests for years, and was sealed off by hardliners in 2009 and left to decay.

United Indonesian Jewish Community (UIJC) estimate there are around 200 practising the faith in the country, believed to be the descendants of traders from Europe and Iraq who came to Asia to trade. The organisation was set up to bring the nation’s Jews together.

The Jewish population in Indonesia is believed to have peaked at around 3,000 in the years before World War II, according to Rotem Kowner, a professor from the University of Haifa in Israel.

Authorities allow Indonesians to put six different religions on their all-important ID cards – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

ID cards are vital for accessing government services, and for doing things such as registering marriages and births, meaning most Jews lie and put “Christianity” on the documents.

The religious affairs ministry said in 2013 people who do not follow one of the six authorised faiths can choose to put nothing on their cards, but Indonesian Jews AFP interviewed had all put “Christian” to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

Despite the challenges, Indonesian Jews nevertheless insist they are an integral part of the nation.

 Click here to read the full article in Hindustan Times

Friday, April 28, 2017
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