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The Jewish English School was located at 22 Sandwith Road, close to the Scott Market Bridge in Yangon, Myanmar. Back then the city’s name was Rangoon. This school mostly served lower income Baghdadi Jewish students, as the higher income families sent their children to the more expensive English schools. 1
Students studied a broad range of subjects including Hebrew, writing and English, according to the standards set up by the British colonial empire. 2 They also were taught patriotism and loyalty to the British Crown in order to prepare them to be citizens of the British Imperial Empire. 3
Daily school life would include meals provided by philanthropists. In addition, community members in mourning would often do an act of service by providing meals as well. The Aaron family provided the main supply of lunches which was especially beneficial for students from low income families. 4 A typical lunch might have been chicken, and curries with rice. A regular schooling environment placed boys and girls in the same classroom until the sixth or seventh grades and by then they would separate to their gendered learning environments. 5
The persecution of the Jewish population by the Japanese in 1941 resulted in the loss of many Jewish community organizations. The Jewish English School that had once served more than 200 students is today a renovated government run high school. 6 7
The Jewish community in Yangon, Myanmar today is very small. These days there is only one local synaogogue, Musmeah Yeshua. It has remained open due to the efforts of a local Jewish family, Moses Samuel and his son, Sammy. Moses's Burmese name is Than Lwin; his son's Burmese name is Aung Soe Lwin. The family holds Shabbat services when the tourist season brings Jews from other countries outside of Myanmar. 8 9
In the early 19th century, there was an influx of Baghdadi Jews migrating enroute to Calcutta. Many of these Jewish families made Rangoon (now known as Yangon) one of their stops along the way as they were drawn to the opium-based trading economy in the eastern regions of Asia. 10 11
In the 1870s, a larger influx of Jews moved into Rangoon and from there synagogues, community organizations, and cemeteries were built to accompany the growing Jewish population. By 1941, the Japanese invaded Myanmar and hundreds of thousands of Burmese and Jewish groups escaped to India for refuge. Even after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and with Myanmar creating a pleasant relationship with Israel, the Jewish population remained sparse. Then after the Burmese military regime took over Myanmar in 1962, more Jews departed leaving only a few families in the community. 12