The history and culture of European Jewry is widely known, but many people are unfamiliar with the Jews of Asia and the contributions that Jews made in Asian countries. For example, small pockets of Jewish communities peacefully existed in China over the last several centuries, and even today, there are active Jewish synagogues in India.
In a new book of essays, “Pepper, Silk & Ivory,” authors Marvin Tokayer and Ellen Rodman tell the stories of many of these Jews, some of whom were unsung heroes who played significant roles in government and politics and some of whom were ordinary people who worked to better the lives of fellow Jews. Tokayer, who served as a rabbi in Japan between 1968 and 1976, collected tales over the years and became heavily involved with the Federation of Jewish Communities of Southeast Asia and the Far East.
The 23 essays in the book cover Jewish life in China, Japan, Singapore, India and Burma (now Myanmar), countries with religious tolerance and no history of Jewish persecution.
Many, if not most, of the subjects in the book were not Asian-born Jews but European or American Jews who, for some reason or another, found their way to the Far East.
The takeaway from the book is that the history and legacy of the Jewish people in the Diaspora is monumental and truly global. If you like political history coupled with related anecdotal stories, the book will appeal to you.