History of the Jews in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Jews
Total population
approx. 5,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Hong Kong 5,000
Hebrew, English, Cantonese
Related ethnic groups
Other Jewish groups
(Ashkenazi, Sephardi, etc.)

The Jews have been present in Hong Kong since the mid-19th century. As a major financial centre, much of Hong Kong's Jewish community is temporary in nature, largely consisting of expatriates from countries with much larger Jewish populations, such as the United States, Israel, and certain European countries.

1800s-1960s: origins

Jews first arrived in Hong Kong when the territory was ceded to Great Britain by China in 1842. The Jews transferred their offices from neighboring Canton and Macau (a Portuguese settlement) to Hong Kong and helped to develop this new port.

The Hong Kong Jewish Community was first established in 1857. The first synagogue was set up in a rental house on Hollywood Street in 1870. A new synagogue in memory of Sir Jacob Sassoon's mother, Leah, replaced the older one in 1881. The Ohel Leah Synagogue was constructed in 1901, the communal cemetery was enlarged in 1904 to meet the needs of the community with assistance of Sir Matthew Nathan, the only Jewish governor of Hong Kong, and the Jewish Club, built by the Kadoorie family, was created in 1904 and enlarged in 1909.[2] The Jewish population, which had totaled 60 Sephardim in 1882, grew to 100 in 1921 (mostly Sephardim), and 250 in 1954 (half Sephardim and half Ashkenazim). Growth then slowed, and the population numbered only 230 in 1959, and 200 in 1968 (70 Sephardim and 130 Ashkenazim).[3] Ho Fook and Robert Hotung's father was the Jewish Dutch man Charles Maurice Bosman.[4]

The Jewish community did not grow quickly, as most Jewish merchants were attracted to Shanghai, especially in the period from 1910 to 1936. However, the Japanese occupation of mainland China in the late 1930s caused many Jews to leave Shanghai, Tianjin, and Harbin for Hong Kong.[5] The outbreak of World War II and the consequent Japanese occupation of Hong Kong temporarily suspended all Jewish activities there.

1960s-1990s: expansion

From the 1960s onwards, Hong Kong's development as a trade and finance centre attracted tens of thousands of foreigners, among them Jews from the United States, Israel, the UK, Australia and Canada. They revitalized the local Jewish community. Since the 1960s, Israel also began to appoint Honorary Consuls to Hong Kong.

Present day

There were 2,500 Jews living in Hong Kong (two thirds of them Americans and Israelis) according to the statistics of the Israeli embassy as of February 1998, up from 1000 around the 1980s.[6] It is estimated that about 5,000 Jews lived in Hong Kong in 2000,[7] and 6,000 in 2002.[1]

There are now four congregations (the Orthodox Ohel Leah Congregation, the Chabad-Lubavitch Congregation, the Progressive United Jewish Congregation, and the Conservative Shuva Israel Congregation), which have their own rabbis and places of worship.[8] There is also a large Jewish Community Centre,[9] library, recreational facilities and a kosher restaurant, and is the leading venue of Jewish activities in the city. There are two Jewish schools, the Carmel school, providing a nursery school program and grades K-12, and the Ezekiel Abraham school which provides after school learning for older children.

See also


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