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Ho Chi Minh City Becomes Hub for Southeast Asian Jewry’s High Holiday Festivities

Ho Chi Minh City Becomes Hub for Southeast Asian Jewry’s High Holiday Festivities

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A Havdalah ceremony in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, marks the end of Yom Kippur.
A Havdalah ceremony in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, marks the end of Yom Kippur.

Almost one year after the establishment of a permanent Chabad-Lubavitch presence in Vietnam, Jewish life has blossomed across southeast Asia. As evidenced by those in attendance at High Holiday services this month in Ho Chi Minh City, a cross section of world Jewry has been empowered to fully connect with their heritage.

Diplomatic personnel came from Hanoi and stayed in a hotel. Jews from neighboring countries arrived; tourists stopped by to pray.

"There are all types of Jews here," reported Dror Markus, who came from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to celebrate Yom Kippur at the Chabad-Lubavitch center. "Some [are] travelers from Israel, the States, Jews from the local community, and a Jew from Iran. It was very interesting to meet and [enjoy] the brotherhood.

"I am only one of two Jews that live in my city," added Markus. "I usually celebrate holidays alone with the story from the Bible and a movie that is connected someway to the holiday."

"The services were great, the people were fantastic," wrote Paul Rottenberg in an e-mail to Chabad.org.

Prior to last year's arrival of Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Rachel Hartman, along with their infant son Levi Yitzchok, Jewish life was almost unheard of for the 150 Jews living permanently in Vietnam and the thousands that visit annually.

Today, the Hartmans' Chabad Jewish Center offers Shabbat services, a Hebrew school, a weekly Torah class and tourist information. Its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur programs earlier this month – which ended Saturday night with a break-fast meal after Yom Kippur that continued as a spirited Chasidic gathering well into the morning hours – drew scores of worshippers, including some who learned of the High Holidays by chance.

Just Stopped By

The Chabad-Lubavitch center in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
The Chabad-Lubavitch center in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Take the story of Benjamin, who was visiting southeast Asia from Australia, and forgot that it was the High Holidays until a Lubavitch rabbinical student saw him walking outside the Chabad House. He stayed for services.

"I came here as a traveler," said Benjamin, who declined to give his last name, "and happened to meet the rabbi in the street. This prayer service went a long way deep into my heart."

According to Menachem Hartman, the Chabad center has already outgrown its current space.

"This will be the last High Holidays here," he said. "We need to find a bigger center."

Judging from the outpouring of support, growth is likely to continue.

"It's unbelievable, that far beyond the Sambatyon River," said Markus, referring to the boundary marked by Jewish tradition as beyond which the Ten Lost Tribes dispersed, "one could do Yom Kippur in this urban jungle according to the correct way."

Said U.S. Consul Aric Elaxandar, who came from his post in Hanoi to attend services: "Thank you [for giving] us the opportunity to pray here in Vietnam on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur."



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