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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

needles in the haystack

Looking for Sri Lankan's of Jewish descent or Jew's with Sri Lankan descent is a slow mining activity. Even when people "come out" they often wish to remain underground! Even Chabad who have set up in Sri Lanka have not had much contact with Sri Lankan Jews as such - there main constituency being Israeli's, expats etc (not that thats bad). I am wondering how it is possible to create a safe space for individuals exploring their heritage and religious beliefs can meet without expectations? There is by the way a group on Facebook: Jewish and Asian: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2205164688 - worth joining but that is a public group. In my own case, despite coming from a recognised jewish family (the van Dort's) I need to convert for recognition under Jewish law, as there are too many broken records and missing links. Bummer really! I will be undergoing this process this year (and it can take years). Please email me if you have any more information jewsinsrilanka@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Just stumbled across your blog... I was interested because I'm Jewish and was born in Colombo (though left when I was 6 months old). My parents, who were in Ceylon for 2 years, were told that I was the first Jewish boy to be born in Ceylon for a couple of hundred years -- don't know whether that's true.

Anonymous said...

There were Jews in Sri Lanka. My recollection, living in SL as a child in the 50's and 60's, 2 names spring to mind.
(1) My family Do ctor - Dr Raphael ( Raffael as it was spelt then) - Jewish name, so possibly a candidate for your search. Last known to have emmigrated to Australia.
(2) Quintin Isreal - a Teacher at St Thomas College Mt Lavinia, Sri Lanka. Recently deceased. I read his Obituary about 2 months ago.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. Was wondering about Jews in Sri Lanka and typed it on google. I think this blog is probably the most comprehensive collection of details regarding Sri Lankan Jews.

Nice read.


Evelyn M. Campbell said...


I ran across your article this afternoon on your website and tried the email address provided there but my message bounced back, so I came searching for you and discovered this blog.

Today a friend in Spain suggested after learning my ancestor's name that it might be a Jewish one. I had never considered the possibility because there has never been any mention in the family of such a thing. My ancestor's name that you listed is Abraham Joseph. The footnote you referenced is to the Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union and I have searched that particular journal and can only find a listing of Abraham Joseph ... I do not see anything that says he is Jewish.

Do you have any documentation to support that? I have no problem with the Jewish fact. My maternal great great grandmother was half Jewish -- her father was born in the Frankfurt Ghetto.

Abrahm Joseph's Jewishness is unexpected that's all. I would be incredibly grateful if you would share whatever information you have on him

Thank you!

Evelyn (Joseph) Campbell

Mikey said...

I once had an encounter with a gentleman who was a Sri Lankan Jew. I am from New York City and I grew up in the NYC borough of Staten Island, which has a very large Sri Lankan (mostly Sinhalese) immigrant community (we have the largest concentration of Sri Lankan restaurants on the East Coast). I am an Ashkenazi Jew, but I lived in Israel (I am also an Israeli citizen) and I have always been interested in "diverse" Jewish communities, and learned a lot about them, even as a teen. Back in the early 1990s when I was a 20-something college student, I saw a man with obviously South Asian features (that's not unusual in itself) riding the NYC subway with his young daughter, and he wore a kippa (Yarmulke or skullcap) and also had prominently displayed the tzitzit, the ritual fringes attached to a tunic undergarment that observant Jews wear. This kind of established him as an observant Jew. Although I knew it was rude to ask, I said "Shalom Aleikhem" to him in Hebrew, and proceeded to ask him if he was from the Cochin Jewish community in Kerala, South India, which I knew of and was interested in. He surprised me by telling me that he was a Sri Lankan Jew! Now, I told him I was very familiar with Sri Lankans from attending a public high school on Staten Island, but that every Sri Lankan I knew was either Buddhist or Christian. I think he introduced himself to me as Mr Wijesinghe, a very Sri Lankan-sounding name. He told me that he actually attended a hassidic synagogue in Brooklyn belonging to the Satmar sect (they are known as quite anti-Zionist and originate from Hungary, not far from where my great grandparents are originally from). I asked him if his family had originally come from the Cochin Jewish community and somehow wound up in Sri Lanka, but I remember him telling he told me that as far as he knew his family had always lived in Sri Lanka, and that he believed that many in Sri Lanka had Jewish roots, and he wished to one day bring a greater awareness of it to the island. Now, everything I read up to my encounter with that man said that the Jewish community in Ceylon was always miniscule and mostly composed of foreign Jews, perhaps some of the Burgher families have Jewish roots, and there were transient Jews here and there, but there was never a large indigenous thriving Jewish community in Ceylon. I had a short pleasant conversation with him, but I believe that although it's possible he had some Jewish roots somewhere in his lineage, he must have been a convert to Judaism, but I didn't want to delve too much and interrogate him--I felt rude enough already. I remember he gave me his business card, I wish I still had it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your blog! I was doing some research for our own blog and came across it - it is full of so much incredible information. I'm fascinated by the history of our people. Please post a link to your blog on our Sri Lanka page so readers who want to know more about Jewish history there can find out about it :) http://travelingrabbi.com/countries/sri-lanka/