The (no longer) lost Jews of Manado

Nov 24th, 2010, in Society, by

As reported in the NY Times and Tablet magazine – the synagogue in Surabaya might have been forced to close by extremists, but elsewhere in the country, another Jewish community is rediscovering their roots.

As Santayana said, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it — while historically Judaism fare better under Islam, and Good Friday passion plays culminate in abominable anti-Semitic pogroms, most recent anti-Semitic outbursts — whether in Europe, the Middle East, or the Far East — have been perpetrated… well, not by Christians.

There is an interesting, and positive, contrast, when comparing the interplay between Judaism and Christianity, in the Manado case, to that of the US Christian Zionists:

Increasingly strong pro-Jewish sentiments also appear to be an outgrowth of an evangelical and charismatic Christian movement that with the help of American and European missionaries has taken root here in the past decade. Some experts regard this movement as a reaction against the growing role of orthodox Islam in much of the rest of Indonesia.

“In Manado, Christianity has always had a strong identity mark in the belief that it’s opposed to the surrounding sea of Islam,” said Theo Kamsma, a scholar at The Hague University who has studied Manado’s Jewish legacy. Christianity and a reemerging Judaism share a “rebellious” nature, he added.

An interesting parallel might also be made with the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico; some of them might actually be descended from Sabbatarian Christians.


58 Comments on “The (no longer) lost Jews of Manado”

  1. timdog says:

    Gosh, that story about the Surabaya synagogue being “forced to close” just won’t die will it? For the record, the Surabaya synagogue wasn’t “open” in the first place. It had no services and no congregation (although the family who seem to own the place apparently have Jewish roots). During the protest in question some predictably stupid people stomping around on the subject of Israel nearby on Jl Pemuda decided to go and “seal” the synagogue, thereby stopping Surabaya’s well known and enormous Jewish population getting in for their daily round of baby-eating…
    The synagogue is currently as “open” as it ever was; it wasn’t damaged (though the owners – or perhaps the protestors – seem to have removed the small sign on the wall that read “Synagogue”).

    Anyway, having cleared that up, I was pleased that the NYT article used the phrase “the country with the world’s largest Muslim population”, which is factually accurate, unlike the usual “world’s biggest Muslim nation”…

    An interesting story, and thanks for sharing. It certainly seems that there are some weird religious current in Manado, though I’m not sure about the idea of teaching yourself to be Jewish from the internet…

    On the “Israeli flags” mentioned in the piece, I’m not sure about the significance of these. I’ve seen “Israeli flags” as graffiti and decorations in West Timor too, quite often. I’m not sure if this is simply a misappropriation of a “cool symbol” (you see swastikas just as often in the same place), or it may be connected to one of those slightly questionable home-made evangelical get-ups (of which there seem to be a LOT in Kupang, and I’m guessing in Manado too). I don’t think it has any real connection to Israel, or even to Jews…

  2. David says:

    I liked how they included this picture:

    That’s one of my favourite things in Surabaya, I’ve been to that little Jewish cemetery many times and often someone will call out “Found it?”, ie they assume I’m looking for the grave of an ancestor. I like the whole place itself, Kembang Kuning, am fascinated by it, and also its cousin Makam Peneleh, I think I just like old, grubby and dilapidated places…

    Israeli flags, someone here mentioned once how the home fans at a Jayapura vs Makassar game, which was a final I think, ran around the stadium with a giant Israeli flag, to taunt the visiting Makassar supporters….

  3. Lairedion says:

    What’s the purpose of this article?

    For a moment I was made to believe there’s still a small Jewish community actually practicing Judaism in Manado. I never heard of such thing, despite heavy Dutch colonial presence in the area.

    But it’s just about the rise of pro-Israel evangelistic nutters in traditionally Protestant areas, heavily influenced by US based organizations.

  4. Michel S. says:

    What’s the purpose of this article?

    Celebrating religious diversity — especially the odd, anecdotal ones?

    The US Christian Zionists are odd, pro-Israel nutters who even most Israeli Jews are reluctant to embrace — after all, they do so out of a belief that it would bring about the apocalypse! (obviously they conveniently forgot the injunction in the Gospels that warns that the coming of the Son of Man will be a surprise…)

    The Chabad folks might be very .. driven but I would not describe them as evangelistic nutters. I once lived in a university town where a vandalism attack on the local Chabad House resulted in an ecumenical vigil protesting it.

    Or are you referring to the Manado locals who are converting? It *might* be the case that this is more similar to the New Mexican crypto-Jews I referred to — some historians think that the half-remembered “Jewish” practices of their ancestors (not eating pork, observing Sabbath on Saturdays) are actually Sabbatarian Christian practices (e.g. Adventists). In which case I guess you can broadly call them “evangelical”.

  5. Michel S. says:

    Gosh, that story about the Surabaya synagogue being “forced to close” just won’t die will it?

    Mea culpa. Serves me right for still assuming that the NY Times always does its homework — despite recent mounting evidence to the contrary.

    I was pleased that the NYT article used the phrase “the country with the world’s largest Muslim population”, which is factually accurate, unlike the usual “world’s biggest Muslim nation”…

    Indeed! Indonesia is so often misrepresented in the media that I have had to patiently explain, several times, to foreigners that in fact, we’re actually one of the most secular Muslim-majority countries. Though the bar is set rather low, admittedly — Turkey and Malaysia both have rather shoddy track records.

    I’m not sure about the flags either. Still beats the anti-Israeli graffiti in Jakarta, featuring the star of David, that is obviously anti-Semitic, though.

  6. Odinius says:

    I’m not sure about the flags either. Still beats the anti-Israeli graffiti in Jakarta, featuring the star of David, that is obviously anti-Semitic, though.

    Not sure which part of Jakarta you’re talking about, but the vast majority of stars-of-David I’ve seen in Jakarta are gang-related (i.e. blue stars-of-david for gang A, red nazi-style swastikas for gang B, usually one crossed out and replaced by the other).

  7. Lairedion says:

    To me those pro-Israel fanatics Christians are all nutters.

    Celebrating religious diversity is a good thing but beware if you’re not religious (like myself). Y

  8. Lairedion says:

    ou’re frowned upon.

    (Oops something went wrong with submitting this comment).

  9. David says:

    President Harry Truman was a Christian Zionist, I only accidentally learned last night.

    Surabaya is getting a bit of a run in the NYT atm – CitraLand, the Singapore of Surabaya – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/asia/29surabaya.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  10. ET says:

    I was pleased that the NYT article used the phrase “the country with the world’s largest Muslim population”,

    I suppose this must be a NYT-journalist’s – or any other journalist – computer-generated sentence completion. Every time they write the word Indonesia it automatically pops up.

  11. Michel S. says:

    At least that’s a better sentence completion than what Fox News script writers tend to use 🙂

  12. Michel S. says:

    eugh, city planning is one of those topic that sends me into despair, when it comes to Indonesia. Gated communities are proliferating — though unlike in South Africa, at least ours don’t have electrified barbed wires (yet). And even worse, the gaudiness of the communities built by our conglomerate billionaires makes me want to pluck my eyes out.

    Compare this to the New Urbanist new town Prince Charles is developing in England — basing it on local heritage, and without gates to keep dirty outsiders out.

    RE: Christian Zionism — interesting, didn’t realize that myself — here’s a NYTimes book review making the claim. Makes his decision to use atomic weapons a bit more questionable too (the utilitarian arguments still stand, but did he have other, pseudo-religious considerations?)

  13. Michel S. says:

    I consider myself a religious moderate, and I do sympathize with the plight of the non-religious in countries such as Indonesia or even the USA — if you’re a citizen, for instance, what do you put down as your religion? It gets worse these days when you need a (state-sanctioned) religious marriage before you can get your marriage license.

    And yes, Christian fundamentalism is a growing problem (likewise with Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism — ordering them alphabetically here). Indeed, even Buddhist fundamentalism — I did not realize this until I read my first Sri Lankan op-ed when transiting there several years ago.

    But automatically assuming that any expression of Judaism is a fundamentalist Christian Zionist plot is probably as bad as assuming that these folks are reclaiming their own heritage. Probably worse as it’s more degrading to the people involved.

  14. Michel S. says:

    Ah, indeed! Didn’t know that — in fact, I really don’t want to know that. It’s a sorry reflection of what modern communication and a smattering of trivia does — when symbols with deep-seated religious and historical meanings get co-opted for the promotion of senseless violence, what hope do we have that people would learn about each other’s culture and history?

    As an example of what happens when people casually interpret something without a proper understanding — I once heard the claim that Italians are in charge of educational accreditation in the EU; a misunderstanding presumably rooted in the process being called the “Bologna process”. Heck, by the same extrapolation, the Dutch were in charge of the European Union (the Maastrict treaty)!

  15. David says:

    Gated communities: the er first one I lived in, which was a year in 1999, I lived in the furthest corner of it, and if you stood on the road that ran around the edge of the estate there was a wall around it of course, and over the wall you could see the tops of houses in a kampung; standing on the road you were only about 20 metres away from those houses. But if you wanted to go to that kampung, on foot, you’d have to climb over the wall – there was a little gate in the wall but it was always locked.

    If you wanted to drive there in a car it would have taken you half an hour, because you’d have to drive out of the complex and then take a pretty circuitous route to get to the kampung; to go there on a motorbike would have been quicker, you could have cut across a field, but still about 15 minutes trip. And where you started you were only 20 metres away.

  16. Lairedion says:

    And yes, Christian fundamentalism is a growing problem (likewise with Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism — ordering them alphabetically here)

    Well, there are some differences here.

    I would argue Christian/Islamic/Jewish fundamentalism is a global problem (proselytization mannerism, global spreading and ambitions (Christianity and Islam), shared semitic heritage) and Buddhist/Hindu fundamentalism is limited to Sri Lanka (in your example) and India respectively, often fueled by clashes with other religious groups actively seeking converts (you know who I mean). That doesn’t mean I’m denying its problems but I don’t believe they really care if I’m non-religious.

    There are some nice videos on Youtube of how Jewish fundamentalists treat non-observant Jews, Christians (tourists) and others and I would recommend Christians to read what the Talmud has to say about Jesus and Mary.

  17. Michel S. says:

    I’ll grant you that Christianity and Islam, having historically perceive themselves as universal faiths, do have more of a problem with taking proselytizing a bit too far.

    However, Judaism does not do this. Converting into it is actually a rather strenuous task (hardest to convert into Orthodox Judaism, not so bad for Conservative and Reform Judaism but still, the onus is on the person converting to make the effort). Salvation for non-Jews is through following the Noahide Laws (and historically, Judaism is not overly concerned with the afterlife anyway).

    I grant you that presently, literalist maximalism on the behalf of politically powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish organizations and communities is conflating the Palestinian problem (Judaea and Samaria are given to us by the Almighty, and we will not relinquish them!). But apart from the Palestinian aspect, the problem with ultra-Orthodox Jewish fundamentalism is limited to Israel. It’s being a non-Orthodox Jew there, let alone a non-observant one (your children might not be recognized as Jewish unless you have a Jewish marriage, etc.). But how different is this from the problems with extremist Hinduism and Buddhism being localized to India and Sri Lanka?

    The Talmud says bad things about Jesus and Mary, yes, but it has to be seen in the historical context. From their perspective, Christians are trying to hijack their faith! An analogy would be the hostility a lot of Christians feel towards Mormons (on one end) and Unitarians (on the other end).

  18. Michel S. says:

    That’s similar to my experience. And apart from the self-segregation worries (these complexes often have their own electricity grid transformer, etc. — though it does not stop some of our neighbors from stealing electricity!), the gated apartments and complexes tend to have very over-the-top names too, like “Maple Park” (not a single maple tree there), “Mediterranean Lagoon” (neither), or some old Sanskrit… *shakes head*

    Speaking of parks, it’d be mighty nice to have more of those around. And public transportation. Perhaps we can’t be like Singapore right away, but the Brazilians did a good job with Curitiba…

  19. ET says:

    However, Judaism does not do this. Converting into it is actually a rather strenuous task (hardest to convert into Orthodox Judaism, not so bad for Conservative and Reform Judaism but still, the onus is on the person converting to make the effort).

    I may be wrong but I always heard that your mother has to be Jewish in order to become one.

  20. Michel S. says:

    That’s not strictly true; you are a Jew by birth if your mother is Jewish, but you can convert later (Clinton’s last SecDef, William Cohen, was born to a Jewish father but non-Jewish mother and opted not to undergo the conversion process, and is thus no longer considered Jewish by religion).

    The most common reason for conversion, indeed, is for reason of marriage — Orthodox and Conservatives rabbis won’t even officiate at mixed-faith weddings, although Reform and Reconstructionist ones probably will. But the spouse-to-be who is converting still has to find another reason for seeking conversion, stating that it’s “so we can get a Jewish wedding and raise our children in the faith” is, as I understand it, not sufficient.

  21. Lairedion says:

    But apart from the Palestinian aspect, the problem with ultra-Orthodox Jewish fundamentalism is limited to Israel.

    Recently Ovadia Yosef, a powerful Jewish rabbi nutter, stated that the sole purpose of non-Jews in this world is to serve Jews.

    Well, those Manadonese locals and Christian Israel fanboys in general respond well to such statements. Brings the whole matter outside the boundaries of Israel into global territory.

    So I don’t think we should celebrate the rise of the Manadonese “Jews” as a sign of religious diversity. I find such trends alarming. Another breed of narrow-minded people in the making.

  22. Michel S. says:

    Recently Ovadia Yosef, a powerful Jewish rabbi nutter, stated that the sole purpose of non-Jews in this world is to serve Jews.

    And you generalize from this to every Jewish person? Sounds like knee-jerk anti-Semitism to me; I do hope it’s based out of lack of perspective rather than a manifestation of this trend that is sadly popular among the intellectual left these days.

    If one cherry-picks the bad apple and use that person as a stereotype for his/her co-religionist, then we’d have Osama Bin Laden representing all Muslims, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham representing all Christians, Stalin representing all atheists… what would it achieve?

    For a liberal, humanist, Canadian perspective of Judaism (the author is engaged to an orthodox Jew but is herself ex-Catholic agnostic Unitarian), I’d recommend A Sundial’s Saga: Secular Humanistic Judaism.

  23. ET says:

    If one cherry-picks the bad apple and use that person as a stereotype for his/her co-religionist, then we’d have Osama Bin Laden representing all Muslims, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham representing all Christians, Stalin representing all atheists… what would it achieve?

    Then what do you propose to make people open their eyes, look more deeply into their faiths and make the necessary amendments?

  24. Michel S. says:

    Then what do you propose to make people open their eyes, look more deeply into their faiths and make the necessary amendments?

    Not automatically pigeon-holing them with the extremists, for a start. People tend to get defensive when their faith is attacked without any attempt at dialogue.

    The same applies to atheists; there are some that I respect for engaging in dialogue (Hitchens, Sam Harris) but some like Dawkins really see no accomodation possible, and does not help the perception of scientists among the religious, or the perception of religion among his followers.

  25. ET says:

    People tend to get defensive when their faith is attacked without any attempt at dialogue.

    Attempts at dialogue have gone on for ages, apparently with no result as far as eradicating extremism is concerned. Inertia is a strong contender when people, whatever group they belong to, have to wipe their own backyard. And unlike power, reason and compliance never have been decisive elements in shaping history.

  26. Michel S. says:

    Attempts at dialogue have gone on for ages, apparently with no result as far as eradicating extremism is concerned.

    Within Christianity and Judaism, actually, denominations do moderate their views over time. Even the Catholic church and Orthodox Judaism.

    Of course, that opens up space for fundamentalists; there are always enough disaffected people to go around. What is notable, however, is how fundamentalists tend to live in segregation (whether self-imposed or otherwise) from the wider world. This applies as much to the more extreme wing of the Tea Party movement as well as it does to fundamentalist branches of Christianity (from the QuiverFull movement to eschatologists to polygamist Mormons), ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Wahhabism, … or even Dawkinsian new atheism.

    Would you really say that ecumenical and inter-communal dialogue has no impact or even negative impact? Seems a rather cynical view, though you are of course entitled to it.

  27. Odinius says:

    Can’t seem to respond to Michael above. Yes, atheists are a minority in the USA, and not all that popular with the Christian fundies, but unlike Indonesia, you don’t ever have to state your religion for any reason, on anything. It’s not on ID cards, it’s illegal to use it as a basis for housing, hiring, etc. If someone asks, and you refuse, or say “atheist,” they can act disappointed or disagree, but that’s it. Churches and other houses of worship have the right to decide whom they marry on the basis of religion, but anyone can marry anyone in front of Justices of the Peace, who are legally barred from using religion (or race, ethnicity or even citizenship) as the basis for not granting a marriage license. This is in stark contrast to Indonesia, where religion mandatory for sorts of transactions, all individuals are forced to choose 1 of 6 for government-issued ID cards.

  28. Michel S. says:

    Yes, somehow the WordPress installation that IndonesiaMatters use limit the depth of nested comments, which is rather annoying.

    I agree that the “secularism” of Indonesia does not in any way approach that of the US — my point is that it compares reasonably well to other “moderate” Muslim-majority countries.

    In Malaysia Shari’a law is compulsory for Muslims; in Indonesia it is opt-in and only for matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance (as far as I know). Being an Armenian in Turkey is a worse plight than being a Christian in most parts of Indonesia (though probably not in the recent conflict zones).

    I agree that the marriage law in Indonesia is ridiculously restrictive — I brought it up myself, see my comment from November 30th. My parents got a civil marriage in one of the last years that it was still allowed, I think, back in the mid-70s.

    I did mention USA and Indonesia in the same sentence, which was an exaggeration — I agree that in the States, outside of politics one can indeed keep religion a private matter these days (though it probably depends on where one lives). Which is an improvement from the America described by Max Weber last century.

    In Indonesia the only way for anyone not in the main 6 categories (and as an Episcopalian, which is both Reformed *and* Catholic, am I a Protestant or Catholic? what would an Orthodox Christian pick? a Unitarian? a Jew? a Pagan? a Wicca?) I guess there is always the “traditional spirituality” option that you can pick, though I don’t know how that would affect marriage proceedings. An atheist would probably have to pick either their parents’ religion or the one he considered least worst (probably Confucianism, which is more a philosophy than a religion anyway).

    Incidentally, personal law in Israel is confessional as well (based on religion), a feature they inherited from Ottoman law. I wonder how it works for non-religious folks there.

  29. David says:

    Yes, somehow the WordPress installation that IndonesiaMatters use limit the depth of nested comments, which is rather annoying.

    I’m on the ball tonight! You can adjust those settings yourself, on Settings > Discussion in the backend, you can increase the threaded replies to up to ten, however we had the problem before that if you do that then the replies can become very, very narrow.

  30. Odinius says:

    Totally agree with your sentiments as voiced here, it just wasn’t that clear from your original post.

    The US has an obvious advantage over Indonesia, in the sense that it is a much older democracy. There was also little conflict among its founding fathers as to the proper relationship between “church” and state, whereas in Indonesia, there were deep disagreements. However, even the original compromise of Pancasila did not embed religion into every aspect of official life–if I’m not mistaken, identification cards did not state an individual’s religion, and there were no institutional boundaries to inter-religious marriage. That was Suharto’s doing…

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