The idea of a small Jewish community in Indonesia pleases me and yet the blind adulation of an Israeli flag is sad. Is there knowledge how the Palestinians are being abused?
A new, 62-foot-tall menorah, possibly the world’s largest, rises from a mountain overlooking this Indonesian city, courtesy of the local government. Flags of Israel can be spotted on motorcycle taxi stands, one near a six-year-old synagogue that has received a face-lift, including a ceiling with a large Star of David, paid for by local officials.
Long known as a Christian stronghold and more recently as home to evangelical and charismatic Christian groups, this area on the fringes of northern Indonesia has become the unlikely setting for increasingly public displays of pro-Jewish sentiments as some people have embraced the faith of their Dutch Jewish ancestors. With the local governments’ blessing, they are carving out a small space for themselves in the sometimes strangely shifting religious landscape of Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.
The trend comes as extremist Islamic groups have grown bolder in assailing Christian and other religious minorities elsewhere in Indonesia, with the central government, fearful of offending Muslim groups, doing little to prevent the attacks. Last November, extremists protesting the 2008-9 war in Gaza shut down what had been the most prominent remnant of Indonesia’s historic but little-known Jewish community, a century-old synagogue in Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city.
That left the synagogue in a town just outside Manado — founded by Indonesians still struggling to learn about Judaism and now attended by about 10 people — as Indonesia’s sole surviving Jewish house of worship. Before reaching out for help to sometimes suspicious Jewish communities outside Indonesia, they researched Judaism at an Internet cafe here. They turned, they said jokingly, to Rabbi Google for answers. They compiled a Torah by printing pages off the Internet. They sought the finer points of davening on YouTube.
“We’re just trying to be good Jews,” said Toar Palilingan, 27, who, wearing a black coat and a broad-brimmed hat in the ultra-Orthodox style, led a Sabbath dinner at his family home recently with two regulars.
“But if you compare us to Jews in Jerusalem or Brooklyn,” added Mr. Palilingan, now also known as Yaakov Baruch, “we’re not there yet.”