The head of the tiny Jewish community in Myanmar has described the coup staged by the country’s powerful military as “a very sad day” and an extremely disappointing development.
The Myanmar military seized power in the Southeast Asian country on Monday morning, arresting senior members of parliament and instituting a one year state of emergency.
Among those detained were de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi together with the president and other senior officials.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Sammy Samuels, the head of the Jewish community, said that everyone in the community was safe but shocked.
“I saw the terrible, horrible news when I woke up, we are all shocked, we didn’t expect it to be happening,” said Samuels.
He said the course of events on Monday was “very scary” and noted that all phone lines and internet access was cut of for most of the day, but has now been restored.
Myanmar’s local Jewish community numbers just 20 people, although there are between 40 to 60 Jewish expats in the country, from the US, UK and Israel.
There is also a Chabad rabbi and center in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar
The community boasts a beautiful 19th century synagogue and formerly had as many as 2,500 residents.
The synagogue is open on Fridays and High Holy Days and a large candle lighting ceremony with the participation of government officials is held every year on Hanukkah in the main prayer hall.
The synagogue does not have regular prayer services, however.
“It is very sad that your leader and president are taken away by the military, as well as other leaders from civil society arrested,” said Samuels.
He said that there was initially a wave of panic buying by citizens of basic goods, but following appeals on social media that phenomenon has now stopped.
In 2011, the Myanmar army voluntarily ended nearly 50 years of military rule but retained broad powers and independence from the civilian government.
In the November 2020 general election, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory with 62% of the vote, but the army now appears to have decided to restore military rule.
“To see all this change within a day in front of your eyes is very difficult. Everyone is very disappointed and depressed.”