Poor Rabbi David Kunin. He flew seven hours from Tokyo to Jakarta yesterday and only arrived at the hotel at 9:00 p.m. And then he had to be ready to head back to the airport at 4:30 a.m. this morning. I did the same, but at least I had all day to adjust to Jakarta. We rushed off to the airport along with Benny's wife Rachel and their youngest child Meir to catch another plane—this time to Manado. The good part of it was that David and I got to spend an engaging five hours on the flight catching up and sharing our thoughts with each other about what we are doing here. We looked at some important questions: What expectations do we have of those students we assist in conversion to Judaism? Is it fair that we make these demands of conversion students, while those who were born Jewish have no knowledge requirements at all? If being Jewish doesn't look the same everywhere in the world, where are the boundaries that we name as within and beyond Jewish life? All of this as a starting point to consider the task that we have set ourselves: to learn as much as we can about what being Jewish and Judaism look like to the different communities here in Indonesia.
We flew first into Macassa, at the southern tip of Sulawesi, and then took off again with a nearly complete change of passengers for an additional ninety minute flight to Manado at the northern end of the island. Sulawesi from the air is a breathtaking land of palm trees, thick vegetation, and simmering volcanos. Manado on the ground boasts some beautiful vistas, but also crazy traffic—trucks, cars and scooters all competing for the same narrow lanes—thatched huts and lots of churches. Benny explained that the island is split in two—Macassa is a Muslim centre, while Manado is dominated by evangelical Christianity. Central Sulawesi, which has been identified as a danger zone by the Australian government, is where the two religious traditions clash, sometimes violently.
The Jewish community in Manado consists of one extended family--elderly parents, at least five of their seven adult children, the children's spouses, and grandchildren. A number of family members live in a sprawling house on one of the town's many hills. They have turned their front room into a little synagogue, complete with reader's table and ark. We had the evening service there, and then Rabbi Kunin taught very slowly as Benny translated his words into Indonesian. They are devoted to the path they have chosen, even as it has complicated their lives considerably: one son lost his job when he asked not to work on Saturdays. They have lost a number of friends who are upset that they have abandoned their Christian faith. It can be very lonely and isolated, but they all seem to draw great strength and joy from their practice. Their dedication is inspiring to me who has always lived places where being Jewish was easy.
Hopefully tomorrow I'll get around to posting some photos of the places I have visited so far. We have another full day in Manado before we retrace our steps back to Jakarta.
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
I've been the rabbi of Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue in Adelaide since 2006. As part of the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia, I'm preparing for my second trip to Indonesia to meet with Jewish communities there.