Travel | World

Singapore, once more: Tucsonan finds Jewish community still thriving

Susan Wortman and Jack Pinnas in front of Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Singapore. Note the large silver mezuzah on the doorframe. (Anne Lowe)
(L-R) Former Tucsonan Melissa Winkle, Anne Lowe and Susan Wortman at the Sir Menassah Meyer International School in Singapore. (Courtesy Anne Lowe)

Four years ago, my husband, David, was asked to teach aviation law in Singapore for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Naturally, I went along for the trip. While there, I spent five weeks researching the Jewish community in that Southeast Asian country. When I returned to Tucson, I presented many PowerPoint programs on “The Jews of Singapore — Past and Present.”

When ERAU asked David to teach this year in Singapore from March through mid-May, I was eager to return to this small, thriving, English-speaking country to visit the lovely friends I had made four years before.

On my return to Singapore this March, I immediately hooked up with Melissa Winkle, a former Tucsonan who has now lived more than five years in Singapore. Many Tucsonans will remember her as an outstanding Hebrew teacher. She taught at the Tucson Hebrew Academy and at local congregations including Or Chadash and Bet Shalom, and instructed many of our young folks in their Torah and Haftorah chanting for their bar or bat mitzvah.

Melissa now teaches at the Sir Manassah Meyer International School in Singapore, the Jewish day school there that boasts 150 students. On this recent trip, I had three lovely visits to this school. Melissa and I also sat together in the women’s section of Maghain Aboth (Shield of our Fathers) Synagogue for Shabbat morning services, followed by a delicious kiddush lunch each Shabbat. I even indulged in some of the exotic fruits that were served such as jackfruit and luscious persimmons.

After I had been in Singapore for about a week, I had a visit from fellow Tucsonans Susan Wortman and Jack Pinnas, who had flown there after a short visit to Shanghai. We spent a delightful day together, touring Maghain Aboth, whose ark contains over 30 silver-encased Torah scrolls. The wife of the junior rabbi there, Odelia Livni, was kind enough to open the synagogue for our visit. We also toured the adjacent building, The Jacob Ballas Center, which serves as a Jewish community center. The second floor of this six-floor building houses a kosher food store. We had previously seen many boxes of frozen kosher meats being delivered from Australia, which would be sold to the Jews of Singapore just in time for Pesach.

Later that day, we taxied to the Sir Manassah Meyer International School, which is a beautiful new building that took three years to build at a cost of $40 million. This is where Melissa teaches. She showed the three of us all around the school, from the two libraries, to the gorgeous auditorium, complete with a lighting and sound system for performances on a huge stage, to the Olympic-sized pool where students are taught to swim. We saw students of diverse ethnic heritages; Israeli, Chinese, Vietnamese, British, you name it!

Susan and Jack continued on their trip by taking a cruise liner from Singapore to other ports in Southeast Asia and then on to Tokyo, Japan, before flying home
to Tucson.

The following week, Melissa invited me to come see the school Pesach play, held in that incredible auditorium. I had a delightful time watching and hearing the singing as the Passover story was told, little by little, by each grade of the school. Melissa had created many of the stage decorations.

During my fourth week in Singapore, I traveled again to this school to teach two art classes, one for Melissa’s students, and one for Odelia Livni’s classroom. The children were attentive and well behaved, and a true delight to teach. Amazingly, there were full classrooms that day, even though the next day was the first day of Pesach vacation. No parents had taken their children out of school early. Some of the students would be traveling to Great Britain and Israel for seders, but they were all at school on that last day.

Now I am back in Tucson, with sweet memories of my days in Singapore, and of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends there. Happily, we remain connected electronically.

Anne Lowe is the former director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Northwest Division, president of Congregation Bet Shalom, and immediate past president of Hadassah Southern Arizona.