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New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Charles W. Bell: Yeshiva student in class by himself
His father, Moses Samuels, is the caretaker of Musmeah Yeshua ("Salvation of Joshua"), the only synagogue in Myanmar.Before his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather were Jewish community leaders.One day, Samuels said, he expects to carry on the tradition.His
father also runs a travel agency called Myanmar Shalom, which specializes in Jewish tourism, and it was through a tourist that Samuels
made the Yeshiva connection.
"If it wasn't for tourists, I wouldn't be here," Samuels
said."It was a visitor to the synagogue who told me about Yeshiva University
and offered to carry my application back to New York and deliver it personally.That's how I got here."
There is a Burmese community in New York, mostly in the Jackson Heights and Elmhurst sections of Queens, but Samuels
has not gotten involved with it.Instead, every summer, he
flies home to visit and catch up on events there.
Earlier this year, he
celebrated Passover at home for the first time in three years.One of his
duties, as the youngest person present, was to find a piece of matzoh hidden before the Seder and exchange it for a prize."That's something kids usually do," he
Moses Samuels, a Burmese man in a checked lungi, comes out to meet me. "Are you Jewish?"he asks.When I nod, he leads me into the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, where he serves as caretaker for one of the most stunning examples of Sephardic Jewish architecture I've seen.From the altar, I can see the powder blue detail work on the ceiling, and while I'm staring, Samuels pulls back a curtain and reveals two torah scrolls from Iraq.
Fifty years ago, Yangon had a thriving Jewish community made up mostly of immigrants from Iraq, but today, Samuels
says, it has dwindled to eight families, and his
own son now studies in New York.Still, he
remains proud of his
community, and his
country."We still get 40 or 50 people on Rosh Hashanah," he
As I push through crowded alleys that smell like chapatis, I see ethnic Indians with henna-tinged beards and red dots on their foreheads eating masala dosa at street stalls and ethnic Chinese merchants weighing bars of gold on aging scales.
Jewish Travel. Burma
Moses Samuels- Managing Director
Travelers from around the world know Moses Samuels
as the dedicated host and manager of the only synagogue in Myanmar, Musmeah Yeshua.
For more than twenty years, Moses Samuels
has taken care of the small remaining Jewish community in Burma, as well as the cemetery, and has helped numerous visitors with hotel, airline and other travel arrangements.
Many grateful recipients of his
knowledge and his
assistance have urged Moses Samuels
to open a travel agency so that he
might more formally help people experience the beautiful and diverse country that is his
Of Iraqi Jewish descent, Moses Samuels
continues the work of his
father in caring for the synagogue and community, with a profound love for his
heritage and with a will to keep alive the Jewish tradition in Burma.
lifelong experience in Yangon, his
lifelong knowledge of Burma, is now available to travelers throughout the world.
unique role in Burma has been chronicled in articles in the New York Times
, Washington Post
, International Herald Tribune
, and numerous other newspapers.