Indonesia is one of the last places you'd expect to find a Jewish community. But there is one, in Manado, one of the most remote cities in the far-flung country, and it's hanging on, but just barely.
Last month The New York Times ran an article describing how a tiny spark of Judaism is flickering in Manado, a small city that's always been more tolerant of minorities than Indonesia's more populated cities. The article is worth reading because it shows how the efforts of a few dedicated people are changing attitudes in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.
How are a few families who embraced the faith of their Dutch Jewish ancestors making their presence felt in Indonesia? By forming a very unusual coalition -- with a local legislator, tourism advocates, evangelical Christians, and a Chabad rabbi from Singapore, about 1500 miles away.
A new, 62-foot-tall menorah, possibly the world’s largest, rises from a mountain overlooking this Indonesian city, courtesy of the local government. Flags of Israel can be spotted on motorcycle taxi stands, one near a six-year-old synagogue that has received a face-lift, including a ceiling with a large Star of David, paid for by local officials.
Long known as a Christian stronghold and more recently as home to evangelical and charismatic Christian groups, this area on the fringes of northern Indonesia has become the unlikely setting for increasingly public displays of pro-Jewish sentiments as some people have embraced the faith of their Dutch Jewish ancestors. With the local governments’ blessing, they are carving out a small space for themselves in the sometimes strangely shifting religious landscape of Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.