Java’s Last Synagogue Torn Down

By Camelia Pasandaran on 05:50 pm Jun 15, 2013
Category News
A view of the synagogue from outside. (JG Photo/Christyandi Tri Syandi)

A view of the synagogue in Surabaya before it was demolished. (JG Photo/Christyandi Tri Syandi)

The last vestige of one Indonesia’s oldest and largest Jewish communities is now just a pile of rubble.

Beth Shalom in Surabaya — Java’s one and only synagogue — was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners in 2009.

“It’s not clear when exactly it was demolished and who did it,” Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe.

“In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”

Freddy reported the case to the Surabaya Legislative Council and prompted the commission to summon the Surabaya Tourism Agency, which was responsible for the heritage building.

“It was designated a heritage site by the agency on April 16, 2009. It should’ve been protected,” Freddy said.

A small, Dutch-style building located on a 2,000 square meter plot of land in the middle of Surabaya’s business district, Beth Shalom looked like an ordinary house in the neighborhood. The only features that distinguished it as a synagogue were its mezuzah (Torah scrolls fastened to an entrance way) and the two Star of David carvings on its door.

“There were many artifacts inside the building which can’t be found in other heritage sites,” Freddy said.

Sachiroel Alim, one of the heads of the Surabaya Legislative Council, told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday that the council summoned the Surabaya Tourism Agency at the end of May and gave them seven days to officially report the case to the police since the demolition was in direct violation of the Law on Cultural Heritage.

“There was an indication that the owner of the synagogue had sold the building,” Sachiroel said. “It’s not clear whether the buyer — allegedly a real estate company — destroyed the building, or if the original owner knocked it down themselves,”

Sachiroel said that he did not know if Muslim hard-liners had anything to with razing the synagogue.

“We don’t want to get into the conflict, but a heritage building should be protected by the government,” Sachiroel said.

In January 2009, Muslim demonstrators sealed off Beth Shalom and burned an Israeli flag to protest the country’s attacks on the Gaza Strip at the time.

Soemarsono, the head of the National Unity and Society Protection Agency of Surabaya, claimed that the synagogue was an illegal structure because it did not possess proper building permits.

“It was used as a residence,” Rakyat Merdeka Online quoted him as saying recently.

Sachiroel noted, though, that most of Indonesia’s oldest buildings don’t have building permits since such a requirement was only introduced during the Suharto era.

“The synagogue was built before Indonesia declared its independence,” he said. “How could it have a building permit?”

Rivka Sayers, a Jewish woman of Iraqi descent, reportedly lived in the synagogue’s compound since 1970.

She said that only three families regularly visited the synagogue to celebrate the Sabbath and holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

Indonesia’s last surviving synagogue is located in Manado, Sulawesi.

  • MadWorld

    Taliban style demoCRAZY.

  • Tatanka

    I hope some people will take pictures of the remnants and send them to the ACF rabbi who handed the award to SBY.

  • Michel Favard

    Religious intolerance? Historical brainwashing?

  • Deddy K.

    Why? just a curious question. Why are radical muslims so afraid of everything? If your faith is so strong, all supposed evils (which they believe is everything on the planet that doesn’t pertain to islam) and temptations (although as shown by PKS and FPI they are willing to try everything from reading porn to having a busload of mistresses to corruption and thuggery) then the truth is you should be able to ignore it.
    Live and let live. But there is so much conflict caused by Islam. how come?

  • Hooswho

    Perhaps the owners could erect a giant replica of SBY’s award on the site as a tribute to religious harmony

    Rabbi Arthur Scheneier could come cut the ribbon and do the blessing and afterwards hardline FPI members could beat him to death with bamboo canes thereby showing the world Indonesia’s tolerance to only one religion

    • Muffinman

      They could move the last stage of the non-bikini clad Miss World Pageant there instead of Jakarta. The girls could dance around the bamboo poles.

  • Fransisko Lojaya


  • VISP

    but you know it wont happen VI

  • Durant

    “There was an indication that the owner of the synagogue had sold the building,” Sachiroel said. “It’s not clear whether the buyer — allegedly a real estate company — destroyed the building, or if the original owner knocked it down themselves,”

    There is a possibility -a huge one- that this demolition is more likely a heritage issue -in this case, defeated by greed- rather than religious one.

    But I bet those hard-liners will also rejoice.

  • Fanelli

    Has anyone mentioned that Borobudur doesn’t have a building permit?

  • Tatanka

    To the contrary, respect for others is taught in religion. Even loving one another is also taught. Most religions that is. However, it might have been missed in the education for many Indonesian Sunnis. Or perhaps it is taught but the followers could not hear because they were screaming themselves or to busy looking for victims to whip with bamboo poles or most likely looking to get money from events through intimidation.

    • Valkyrie1604

      The lessons were primarily conveyed in Arabic. How many local Muslims understand this language?

      Funny thing about animals, especially the canine family. Owners are made up of various nationalities but this animal is able to understand what is taught by its’ master. My German Shepherd does not understand Arabic.

  • Podfunk

    Just like the Taliban and the Bamiyan Buddha.

  • Jakartass

    The late David Jardine wrote this article for Tempo – – about a visit to the synagogue in 2006.
    “Is this the synagogue?” I asked.

    Affirmative. I explained that I was in fact a Gentile, a non-Jew but that I was interested in meeting the faithful and in seeing Indonesia’s last remaining synagogue. Chana was most welcoming and after a little while asked if I would care to join them that evening in celebrating the Passover, the major Jewish festival. I felt most honored.

  • ColonelNeville

    Mark Steyn on how Islam destroys everyone’s past but Islam. No, really. Colonel Neville.

    • TalkingEid

      Actually, they often destroy their own, too, Colonel. Take a look at what’s been happening in Mecca and Mali.

  • MadWorld

    Dear Inspector.
    Any ideas the name of the trees that bears radicals rotten fruits?