Shalom Life | April 06, 2014

Shalom, Hong Kong: A Jewish Culture Guide

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet – it has oft been given the moniker “Hong Koncrete”. That said, it offers dizzying array of sights, sounds, and activities at every turn.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: September 10th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Hong Kong

Jews began arriving in Hong Kong after it became a British colony in 1842, being ceded to Great Britain from China. For centuries, commercial interests in South China had brought Jewish merchants to the port city, but under the protective wing of “Mother England”, opportunities abounded. Two wealthy Sephardic mercantile families, the Sassoon and Kadoorie, respectively, moved their offices to Hong Kong in 1842 from mainland China. By late 1850’s, the Hong Kong Jewish community was established after being formally recognized by the British government. The first permanent synagogue, Ohel Leah, was built in 1902 and named in honor of the Sassoon family matriarch, Leah Gubbay.

Ohel Leah synagogue

During the first four decades of the 20th century, the Jewish community in Hong Kong didn’t grow very quickly. Most Jewish merchants were drawn to the more lucrative Shanghai, and likewise, the outbreak of World War II and Japanese occupation of the city halted any potential growth. Things changed for the better during the ‘60’s, when Hong Kong began emerging as the global economic powerhouse that it is today. An influx of Jews from all across the globe began immigrating to the area, increasing the Jewish population exponentially.

The Jewish Cemetery in Happy Valley, Hong Kong

Today, it’s estimated that roughly 5,000 Jews call Hong Kong home. The city has seven congregations in all, including the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong (Reform), Chabad-Lubavitch. The communal epicenter is the Jewish Community Centre constructed in 1995, and located next to the aforesaid Ohel Leah Synagogue. The centre boasts a gym and indoor swimming pool, Judaica library with over 4,000 volumes, banquet and conference facilities, meat and dairy kosher restaurants, a coffee bar, and a well-stocked kosher supermarket.

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