Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma

Overview

Before the Second World War, two golden "promised lands" beckoned the thousands of Baghdadi Jews who lived in Southeast Asia: the British Empire, on which "the sun never set," and the promised land of their religious tradition, Jerusalem. Almost Englishmen studies the less well-known of these destinations. The book combines history and cultural studies to look into a significant yet relatively unknown period, analyzing to full effect the way Anglo culture transformed the immigrant Bagdhadi Jews. England's ...

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Overview

Before the Second World War, two golden "promised lands" beckoned the thousands of Baghdadi Jews who lived in Southeast Asia: the British Empire, on which "the sun never set," and the promised land of their religious tradition, Jerusalem. Almost Englishmen studies the less well-known of these destinations. The book combines history and cultural studies to look into a significant yet relatively unknown period, analyzing to full effect the way Anglo culture transformed the immigrant Bagdhadi Jews. England's influence was pervasive and persuasive: like other minorities in the complex society that was British India, the Baghdadis gradually refashioned their ideology and aspirations on the British model. The Jewish experience in the lush land of Burma, with its lifestyles, its educational system, and its internal tensions, is emblematic of the experience of the extended Baghdadi community, whether in Bombay, Calcutta, Shanghai, Singapore, or other ports and towns throughout Southeast Asia. It also suggests the experience of the Anglo-Indian and similar "European" populations that shared their streets as well as the classrooms of the missionary societies' schools. This contented life amidst golden pagodas ended abruptly with the Japanese invasion of Burma and a horrific trek to safety in India and could not be restored after the war. Employing first-person testimonies and recovered documents, this study illuminates this little known period in imperial and Jewish histories.

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Editorial Reviews

Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Jewish Studies
The author has done a service to Jewish studies by this engagingly written book, documenting a community that has largely disappeared. She has also done a service to the descendants of the people described, who are enabled through this book to recognize their ancestral roots.
Asian Journal Of Social Science
Well-written with hardly a trace of politically-correct jargon or formulaic social-science talk . . . quite literary in its style. . . . [Cernea] seems to write . . . for general readers as well as the people it directly concerns.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online
Almost Englishmen offers a painstaking record of the rise, flourishing, and slow death of the prosperous community of Baghdadi Jews in Burma (today's Myanmar.) With the keen eye and sympathetic ear of the anthropologist, Cernea has gathered the memories and contemporary impressions of a lost world of merchants at once devoted to tradition and enchanted by the cosmopolitan modernity of British India.
Hadashot
This newly published volume is a delight: an easy read offering a fascinating account of the lives and times of the small but significant Jewish community—numbering some 2,100 at their peak—of Baghdadi origin in Burma (Myanmar) during and immediately after the Raj. It is illustrated with evocative photos and inventories of community members and their subsequent emigration details.
— David Simon
Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Jewish Studies
The author has done a service to Jewish studies by this engagingly written book, documenting a community that has largely disappeared. She has also done a service to the descendants of the people described, who are enabled through this book to recognize their ancestral roots.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online
Almost Englishmen offers a painstaking record of the rise, flourishing, and slow death of the prosperous community of Baghdadi Jews in Burma (today's Myanmar.) With the keen eye and sympathetic ear of the anthropologist, Cernea has gathered the memories and contemporary impressions of a lost world of merchants at once devoted to tradition and enchanted by the cosmopolitan modernity of British India.
Asian Journal of Social Science
Well-written with hardly a trace of politically-correct jargon or formulaic social-science talk . . . quite literary in its style. . . . [Cernea] seems to write . . . for general readers as well as the people it directly concerns.
Hadashot - David Simon
This newly published volume is a delight: an easy read offering a fascinating account of the lives and times of the small but significant Jewish community—numbering some 2,100 at their peak—of Baghdadi origin in Burma (Myanmar) during and immediately after the Raj. It is illustrated with evocative photos and inventories of community members and their subsequent emigration details.
Allegra: A Virtual Lab of Legal Anthropology
The book is of interest to academics as well as non-academics who are personally committed to the history of the Jewish diaspora in South(East)-Asia. . . .Cernea’s analysis provides material for comparative anthropological as well as sociological and political research which is concerned with the establishment of religious minorities abroad. It offers a contribution to the analysis of international migratory movements in terms of patterns of assimilation, and the socio-political role and rights of religious minorities within the contexts of statehood and citizenship before and after colonialism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739116463
  • Publisher: Lexington Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2007
  • Pages: 202
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthropologist Ruth Fredman Cernea has been researching the history of the Baghdadi Jewish communities of Southeast Asia since her first visit to Burma in 1987.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Letter from Ellis Sofaer Chapter 2 Introduction: The Baghdadi Diaspora Chapter 3 Adventurers and Entrepreneurs Chapter 4 Beautiful Burmese Days Chapter 5 Three Cheers for the King and the British Empire Chapter 6 The Comforts of Home Chapter 7 Bene Israel vs. Baghdadis: The Court Case Chapter 8 Desperate Passage to India: The War in Burma Chapter 9 Return to Burma Chapter 10 Burma and Israel Chapter 11 Embers Chapter 12 Appendix A: Proceedings of the High Court of Judicature, Rangoon, 1935-1936 Chapter 13 Appendix B: List of Families to Be Evacuated from Burma to Israel Chapter 14 Appendix C: Additional List of Potential Emigrants to Israel, 1949 Chapter 15 Appendix D: Jewish Community of Burma, 1959 Chapter 16 Appendix E: Jewish People and Their Descendents in Burma, c. 1986

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