A Jewish community of 160 members exists in Jayapura, a city in West Papua, a province of Indonesia. According to local history, a few hundred years ago their ancestors were living in Chile in South America, having emigrated there from Spain in the days of the Inquisition. When the Inquisition came to Chile, ten men and ten women, the strongest members of the community, were chosen and sent away on two small boats to find safety. Sailing into the Pacific Ocean, they first came to Japan, then found their way to West Papua.
Although they accepted Christianity when forced officially to choose a religion, the community always knew that they were Jewish. Their grandmothers told them not to enter a church. The term they used as a title for the elders, despite not knowing its meaning, was “melamdim” which means teachers in Hebrew. The group in Jayapura, as well as a second smaller community in Freeport, West Papua, observe Jewish law and would like to convert officially to Judaism.
In 2017, Dr. Ari Greenspan, a Kulanu board member, along with Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum and Professor Ari Zivotovsky, traveled to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (a country separate from Indonesia) from Israel. They were the first non-Indonesian Jews to meet the Jewish communities in West Papua. The three visitors, who spent two weeks meeting people from the Jewish communities, taught classes about Judaism and answered questions. They have published articles about their trip. (See a link to one of them below.)
According to the visitors, the following are some descriptors of the West Papua community:
- are descendants of Anousim (people forced to convert from Judaism)
- have distinct Jewish customs
- have independently educated themselves, read Hebrew, and have even printed a siddur in Hebrew and their local language
- are Orthodox in their practice and orientation
- are self-sufficient and request only Torah education
In 2018, Moshe and Dalia Sharon traveled from Israel to West Papua, where they delivered a donated Torah scroll, taught Jewish subjects for three weeks, and ran a seder. Dr. Ari Greenspan organized the Torah donation and travel arrangements. Kulanu contributed to the airfare.
In partnership with the Ohr Torah Stone Nidchei Yisrael program in Jerusalem, Kulanu supported the visit of Keith Flax and Nili Salem B’Simcha to teach in West Papua for a month in 2018 before Rosh Hashana. (See the link below.)
Papua Indonesia Articles and Links
- The-islands-will-rejoice. by Nili Salem B’Simcha (2018)
- Anousim in Indonesia, a New Kulanu Community by Ari Greenspan (2017)