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Synagogue in Penang?😲

Did you know that Jalan Nagor used to house a synagogue for the small Jewish community in Penang?πŸ•

Located at 28 Jalan Nagor, the history behind this converted shophouse escaped the attention of present-day Penangites.

The origins of the Jew community in Penang can be traced back to the 1830s, when the 'Baghdadi' Jewish population fled Persia to India and onward to Singapore and Penang to escape persecution.


The famous Sassoon family were Baghdadi Jews Credit: https://www.malaysia-traveller.com/penang-jewish-cemetery.html

Their population grew, and the community went on to establish a synagogue (a place of worship for followers of Judaism) for the Jewish community to perform their religious duties on the island.

Small as they were, the community was nevertheless close-knit and well-organised. Services were held under the leadership of the 'Hazan' (an official of a Jewish synagogue), a Mr. Hiawi, at the Penang Synagogue in a converted shop house.

Charlie Ephraim, a former Jewish Penangite recalls, β€œwe would meet regularly for Saturday prayers … it was a small place and had 12 copies of the Torah placed in a row for us to pray toward.” (Bhatt 2000:2). A cemetery was maintained nearby, and there was also a Shohet (a person officially licensed by rabbinic authority as slaughterer of animals and poultry for use as food in accordance with Jewish laws) to ensure a steady supply of Kosher food to the faithful (Nathan 1983:171).

However, after the second world war, they dwindled in numbers (a majority of Jews had emigrated to Singapore, Australia, Israel, and the United States), resulting in the closure of its one and only synagogue in Penang in 1976. The community could no longer fulfill a quorum of 10 or more adult Jews assembled for purposes of fulfilling a public religious obligation.

According to Penang Hidden Gems follower Miss Stephanie Lee whose family owned the row of houses at Jalan Nagor, the synagogue was then occupied for a while by the last Jew in Penang, former E&O Manager Mordecai David Mordecai. Known affectionately as Uncle Mordy, he passed away just short of his 90th birthday in 2011 and was buried in the Penang Jewish cemetery alongside his father, a merchant from Baghdad, and his mother, who came from Rangoon.

Currently, the former synagogue houses the siTigun Micro Coffee Roastery.


A former synagogue at 28 Jalan Nagor as reported by The Star. Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2013/07/06/leaving-only-tombs-behind-the-jewish-community-in-penang-is-all-but-gone-with-the-death-of-its-last/

Today, the Jewish cemetery at Jalan Zainul Abidin (formerly Jalan Yahudi) carries the only remaining legacy of the now extinct Jewish community in Penang. For info about the Jewish Cemetery, click here: https://www.facebook.com/100620074888546/posts/185756439708242/

[1] The Star reported the location as 28 Jalan Nagor while a case study by Raimy ChΓ©-Ross, Barton, Canberra reported the location as 18 Jalan Nagor. UPDATE: Penang Hidden Gemmer Stephanie Lee confirmed the Penang Synagogue was located at 28 Jalan Nagor and not at No. 18 Jalan Nagor as her family used to live at 18 Jalan Nagor up until the 90s. This story has been updated to reflect the changes. cc: Teh Lai Heng 郑ζ₯ε…΄

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