http://www.ttc.edu.sg/csca/rart_doc/RaimyCheRoss.pdf Trinity Theological College, Singapore
Penang had a small community of Jews whom the locals called orang* Yahudi. Like the Armenians, they came from India along the trade route. The Jewish Cemetery, which has over 100 graves from the 19th and 20th centuries, is well maintained.” Streets of George Town Penang by Khoo Su Nin
*orang means men
Our very learned friend Elizabeth had loaned me her copy of Streets and though the word Jew wasn’t mentioned in the index, as I was flipping pages I saw the Yahudi Road entry and learned about the Penang Jewish Cemetery. For some reason that I might someday explore, I felt I needed to go visit it. Elizabeth was happy to include it in the tour of George Town she and I did one day when neither Patrick nor Randal needed our help. It was actually our last stop on a very interesting day, but it needs a story of its own. I will tell about our other adventures, each possibly needing a story of its own.
I did read Raimy Che Ross’s article and recommend it if you have an interest. If you start with page 10 you’ll start with what I thought was the most interesting part. I do wish I’d read it before we visited the cemetery. Today I see no signs of Jewish life here and saw none in any places of Malaysia or Indonesia that we have visited. Maybe that’s why I’m interested; because of the very, to me, visible absence. It also gives me a way to focus on one small subject; something I can relate to more than battles or politics. The religions of the area and the treatment of women seem to have captured me more than the plants, animals or even the beautiful scenery. Singapore, as you might recall, does have a Jewish community as does Shanghai in China. I did visit the Singapore synagogues but not the one in Shanghai when we were there. Next time.
You know how you always smile when someone takes your photo?
When I looked at the photo on the computer, a smile seemed oddly out of place. Walking through the cemetery, had I been alone, I think I would have cried. It was really what I wanted to do. I guess I felt some kind of link to this tiny, somewhat abandoned remnant of a community that no longer exists. I did leave some money with the caretaker who took us around. After reading the story about the cemetery, I wish I’d left more. At the time, although I felt good about my visit and the remembrance stones that I left there, it was unsatisfying not learning more. My thanks to Raimy Che Ross for telling the cemetery’s story.
The caretaker’s family has cared for the cemetery for generations. Read about it in the article; it is quite interesting. Written in 2002, it mentions that the current caretaker, Mrs. Fatimah (79 in 2002 and in ill health), is the grand-daughter of the original caretaker. Her daughter says that she does not want to live in a cemetery. We did not see her but were guided around the cemetery by a middle-aged man who did not want his photo taken. There were some young women there also, possibly her daughter Tipah who was caring for her bedridden mother when the article was written.
This stone is set just in front of all of the graves.
The article mentions that the graves are placed close together though there seemed to be plenty of room. Raimy Che Ross speculates that the cemetery wouldn’t be able to expand so land needed to be saved. The photo in Streets shows most of the land is still unused. The cemetery occupies 38,087 square feet “cleaver shaped plot” on what has now been renamed Jalan Zainal Abidin. Jalan means road.
The cemetery is on the outskirts of George Town. Raimy Che Ross speculates that perhaps is what has protected it all these years.
I think this might be the oldest grave. You can see by the “remembrance stones” that it has been visited. I don’t know how long stones would stay undisturbed, rain storms can have pretty strong winds.
This person’s last name is Cohen. Raimy Che Ross points out that all of the Cohen’s are buried together in the cemetery in respect of their status as “Cohens.” I don’t know if that’s true everywhere, but all of the few Cohens are buried together here. (I can’t possibly explain it, but the name Cohen is connected to those Jews who were the religious leaders.)
The grave of a British Soldier, a Cohen, killed in an accident in 1941. His grave is maintained by the Commonwealth Graves War Commission .
I thought this one was interesting with the different types of inscription.
We saw the graves of sisters, husbands, wives, brothers and babies. I’m glad that I went. Glad that Elizabeth was willing to share the experience.
Tomorrow we will take care of the port clearance paperwork in the morning and then relaunch DoraMac late in the afternoon. It will be wonderful to get back to our cruising but sad to say good-bye (for now) to Elizabeth and Patrick. We will just go back down the strait and then head off tomorrow for Rebak Marina near Langkawi. I said "for now" because we’ll all be cruising around the same areas and will hopefully meet again along the way.