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An obscure history

Jews have been in Indonesia for a very long time, probably since well before the European expansion into Southeast Asia


Rotem Kowner

   A bar mitzvah ceremony in pre-war Surabaya at the home of the Mussry
   family, attended by European and Baghdadi Jews
   Eli Dwek

Although there is no trace of an ancient Jewish community in the Indonesian archipelago, it is possible that Jews arrived in Sumatra and Java as individuals – traders and mariners from the Indian subcontinent or Arabia – before the advent of European colonialism. Indonesia’s naval and commercial contacts with India began several centuries before the Common Era (CE) and Jews had inhabited the Indian subcontinent since the sixth century, many of them working as traders in ports like Cochin and Calicut.

The first time the presence of a Jew living in the Indonesian archipelago was confirmed in a written text was in the late Middle Ages. This person was a merchant from Fustat in Egypt, who died in the port of Barus, Northwest Sumatra in 1290. People of Jewish descent may have also arrived in the region with the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century. Jews had fled to Portugal after their expulsion from Spain in 1492, only to be expelled from Portugal four years later. In 1511, a Portuguese force under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque took over the city port of Malacca and paved the way for Lusitanian

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