When the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, visited the Jewish community centre for the inauguration of its new building in June 2012, he closed his remarks with the familiar refrain, “next year in Jerusalem”, adding, “but this year in Singapore”.
This reflects a wider appreciation of the contribution that the Jewish community makes to this city-state, and has done so ever since Jews first came to Singapore in the early 19th century.
My recent visit to the community centre on Shabbat confirmed that Jewish trade in Singapore continues to flourish. Business of some description is the most popular occupation in the 2,500-strong community, which is a hybrid of expats from Western countries and entrepreneurial Israelis, as well as indigenous Singaporean Jews, some of whom trace their roots back to the time of British rule.
Whilst the community has never numbered more than a few thousand, it has produced some distinguished members. A former chief minister of Singapore, Sir David Marshall (1908-1995), was a proud Jew.
The community centre houses a Kosher restaurant and accommodation for its two rabbis and enthusiastic Chabad workers. The centre is on the same site as the magnificent Maghain Aboth shul, which, together with the other shul, Chesed El, is safeguarded as a national monument.
The senior rabbi, Mordechai Abergel, arrived 20 years ago, and welcomes hundreds of Jewish visitors from around the world every year. The cosmopolitan company at my Friday-night dinner table included an Australian financier, an urbane Russian and an American family with an international pharmaceuticals business.
Singapore — population 5 million — has achieved an economic miracle since independence in 1965, becoming one of the world’s most important trading and financial centres. Such success in such a short space of time can be matched, perhaps, only by Israel. Both countries won independence after the war, breaking free from foreign rulers, and have built burgeoning economies. Unsurprisingly, there is a natural kinship between the two. A steady stream of Israeli politicians pass through Singapore, with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon visiting in February.