Why Hong Kong can’t live without its Jewish Friends!

Last week was a hectic Mid-Term week at University. I am taking a Public Speaking class and had to give a short informative speech, my chosen topic was the Jews of Hong Kong: Past, Present, and Future. (Of Course!)  The audience was 20-24 year old Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese with minimal knowledge of Jews or Jewish people.  My presentation was about 8-10 minutes long and showcased the prominent Jewish immigrants of Hong Kong and their contributions to the city.  I also attempted to clarify Jews or Jewish people for my Chinese friends with a slide I created.  J-E-W-S not to be confused with J-U-I-C-E. 🙂

[Begin my Speech]


Jews began arriving in Hong Kong shortly after it became a British colony in 1842.  The wealth of trading opportunities with Chinese ports served as the main draw for Jewish immigrants over the next hundred years.  In 1872, there were about 40 Jews; that numbered quadrupled by the end of the 19th century. Shortly thereafter, the Jewish community realized that it needed to support a growing community.  To achieve that end, the first synagogue was built, named Ohel Leah, after the builders’ mother.  An additional Jewish Recreation Center was built next to the synagogue three years later. (Fellner, 2012)

At present, there is an estimated 5,000 Jews living in Hong Kong, though the number can vary due to the transient nature of the city.  Most are expatriates from the United States, Europe, and Israel on short-term work assignments. (Fellner, 2012)  The Jews didn’t just come empty-handed; they have made several significant contributions to the city of Hong Kong that I am about to introduce.

Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s premier entertainment district was just an alleyway in the 1980s.  Born in Germany to a Jewish family, Allan Zeman fell in love with Hong Kong upon arrival at age nineteen. Initially he started a successful garment exporting business and wanted to entertain his clients at restaurants with flair.  But during the 1980s, all the good restaurants were located within hotels so he decided to start his own in Lan Kwai Fong.  The restaurant spawned other entrepreneurs to open restaurants and business in the area, thus turning it into the entertainment block that it is today.  He said “Hong Kong is every businessman’s dream. If you have a dream, you can make the dream happen the next day.” (China Daily, web)

Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s premier theme park was struggling with low attendance and negative operations before 2004.  Allan Zeman took over as Chairperson and turned that around. He saw the potential of the park and worked with designers to craft a new vision, filled with creativity and innovation.  Today Ocean Park has an annual attendance of about seven million, compared to the two million in 2004 and is ranked the World’s 9th Theme Park.  (China Daily, web)

Another notable Jewish family, the Kadoories, came to Hong Kong from Baghdad, Iraq in the 1800s and has had a lasting impact on the culture life of Hong Kong.  Lawrence Kadoorie was an original “Taipan” or Tycoon of Hong Kong.  He founded CLP; the utilities company that made Hong Kong’s post-World War II industrial boom possible.  Michael Kadoorie, his son, heads the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Group with the Flagship Peninsula Hotel chain.  The Peninsula Hotel of Hong Kong proudly stands in Kowloon as a famous Hong Kong landmark.  (Associated Press, 1993)

The Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden in the New Territories is another notable contribution to Hong Kong from the Kadoorie family.  After the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s population dropped to about 600,000.  It skyrocketed to over 1.5 million after Mainland Chinese refugees began to flood Hong Kong to escape the Civil War ravaging their homeland.  Farmers made up the bulk of the refugees, the Kadoorie Brothers, Lawrence and Horace wanted to help them help themselves so to speak.  They created what’s now called the Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens to provide interest-free loans, training, and agricultural input to refugee farmers.  Today the farm as evolved with an environmental mission as Hong Kong moved away from farming. It provides environmental education, plant protection, and organic agriculture to local community. (KFBG, n.p)

The Golden Shopping Mile of Hong Kong, otherwise known as Nathan Road owes its name to a Jew.  His name is Sir Matthew Nathan, Governor of Hong Kong under British rule from 1904-1907.  Trained as an engineer, he was the youngest-ever Governor at just thirty-nine years old. (Jewish Times Asia: Dec 09/Jan 10)

Under his leadership, the foundation of Kowloon’s transportation systems was laid. The planning of the KCR or Kowloon-Canton Railway was underway when he took the governorship, but was full of construction challenges and pitfalls.  He combined his engineering expertise, people skills, and financial maneuvering to help overcome construction challenges.  For example, “Nathan…offered his technical advice for the construction of the Chinese section, suggesting that the railway line bypass Weichow, thus saving enormous amounts of time and money.”  (Jewish Times Asia: Dec 09/Jan 10)

He was also instrumental in persuading British Railway officials to move the proposed ferry and train terminal from Yau-Ma-Tei to the southern-most tip in Kowloon, in order to enhance efficiencies in the Hong Kong section of the KCR. (Jewish Times Asia: Dec 09/Jan 10)

[End Text] Full Text in PDF form with Works Cited page here

Some Key Contributions (Links)



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