Jewish communities in Portugal and Thailand


The Jewish News Syndicate wrote an article about the Portuguese Jewish community in January 2021. The caption about the growth of the Jewish community in Porto grabbed me. For a similar statistic seems to ring true regarding the growth of Jews living in Bangkok.

Porto and Bangkok. Two cities. One with an ancient and rich Jewish history that almost disappeared for several hundred years. The other, with barely any Jewish history to talk about till eighty years ago.

Porto and Bangkok are both experiencing a growth and revival in their Jewish life. A Jewish renaissance of sorts. Some interesting parallels attracted my attention. Our new Bangkok Jewish Center – ‘the Zerner Campus for Jewish Life’ will also house a Jewish Museum. However, it is something a bit more unusual that I would like to write about in this article. ‘Beit Hachayim’ ‘The ‘house of life’. Such is the name that a cemetery is referred to in the Jewish tradition.

Bangkok’s Jewish community has just consecrated a new Jewish burial ground. The first fully independent Jewish cemetery ground.

The Oporto Jewish community has just consecrated a new Jewish burial ground, the first in five centuries.

Eclectic as it may sound, the new cemeteries pay testimony to the vibrancy of the developing Jewish communities. An active Jewish burial ground is a sign of a vibrant Jewish life. A community that conducts Jewish burials, on a consistent basis, (hopefully mostly of people who are dying of natural causes at advanced ages), is a living and thriving Jewish community.

Jewish burials are a sign of Jewish life. Ancient Jewish cemeteries are a sign that Jews lived in that locale in ancient times. Modern, active, expanding Jewish cemeteries, are a sign that Jewish life is currently active in that area. Ironically, sometimes the only sign that there was a Jewish presence in a particular region is the cemetery.

In our area of the world, in Harbin, China for example, there is a Jewish cemetery whose six hundred plus graves pay testament to the fact that Jewish life flourished there during the first half of the twentieth century. Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Singapore and various other countries all have Jewish cemeteries that tell a story of a once upon a time vibrant Jewish community. In some of the above-mentioned locations, this is one of the only testaments to Jewish life that remains.

There is another reason Jewish cemeteries are called a ‘house of life’. It is because the soul never dies. It moves to heaven where it truly LIVES on.

May the Almighty bless us with the fulfillment of the Prophetic revelations that the ‘dwellers of earth will rise and sing’, with the coming of Mashiach, AMEN