Sunday, 15 July 2012

Jewish Graves in Penang

All my professors in California and Perth were either Jews or Christians. It is hard to tell the Jews from the Christians because they can be mistaken for Christians. It is not known whether Jews can become Christians and then become Muslims. Jews, Christians and Muslims have similar names but different spellings. Common names are Abdul Rahman, Yahya, Aaron, Jacob, etc.

From what I understand of history, the Dutch East India Company seamen were Jews. They landed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Malacca. Malacca was Dutch Jew for a long time. Then the British took over from the Dutch and built the churches in Malacca, mostly the Protestant churches. There is no Dutch church as they were Jews. The Dutch Jewish graves should be plenty in Malacca. Today, the mixed Asian Jews are not known as Jews but by another name, some are 'Christians' but have Jewish surnames. However, most of the Jews found in Malaysia are Indians but have Jewish names.

Malaysia forbids Jews from entering into the country as it is an Islamic country. However, the Jews can state 'Christian' for their religion in their passports and visit Malaysia. They can also hold 2 passports - Israel, Iran, USA or UK, and can therefore come to Malaysia.

The Jews consume koshered food. This was aired on Malaysian TV (ASTRO) some time back this year. It was a documentary about the Jews in the Bronx and their livelihood. They wore gloves when handling food at the deli. They worked and owned farms. The one showed was mainly about country life. But we know the Jews are also in academia, banking, military, governments, hoteliers, music industry, etc world wide.

Malaysia hired a very good musician - Gus Steyn, who was a Jew. He worked with Orkestra RTM and composed some of the most beautiful songs played in Malaysia. I remember playing some of his songs on my own piano when I lived in Kelantan between 1969 and 1971. After Gus Steyn (Gustaaf Nicolaas Steyn), we had Alfonso Soliano, who also composed some of the most beautiful songs for Malaysia. In the mid-1970s, there was Irving Berlin in the USA and his beautiful musical scores, which were adapted for the electric organ.

There was still a Jewish community in Penang when I started work at USM in Penang in 1982. When we started the USM medical school in 1979, we had two Jewish lecturers. One was a lecturer in Immunology and the other in Community Medicine. They have both left before the medical school moved to Kelantan in May 1990. The one in Immunology was Prof. Peter Simmons; he already passed away. He was instrumental in setting up the Dept of Immunology for the USM medical school. The other one returned to USA and I don't know whether he is still alive or not. His name is Stephen Wheeler King. Both were very good lecturers.

Gravestone inscriptions point to a lot about our past. Someone wrote on 15 July 2012 to ask about the Jewish graves in Penang. I will help out here at my blog since I have lived in many places including Malacca and Penang. I am familiar with some of the graves but not all the graves.

Jewish Cemetery
Yahudi Road/Jalan Yahudi --> Jalan Zainal Abidin


Saidah Rastam said...

Prof, I've heard people say that Gus Steyn wrote some of the most beautiful songs, but it's almost impossible to find you happen to have his old songs still?

Prof Faridah said...

Dear Saidah Rastam,
I don't know whether I still have any of Gus Steyn's songbooks. I will need to check first. I don't have any of his music. I will let you know if I stumble across any. You can try and write to RTM and ask.

Saidah Rastam said...

Thanks Prof!