President and founder of the Ohel Yaakov synagogue, which has been serving the Dutch-Jewish community of Manado since September 2004, the 28 year old Baruch, who teaches law at Manado’s Sam Ratulangi University, only discovered his Jewish roots eleven years ago. Since then he has spent much of his time not only serving the Jewish community of Indonesia, but also scouring the country looking to find other Jews and help them rediscover the beauty of their religion.
Recently a reporter from the VJmovment profiled Yaakov Baruch in this below video.
In an exclusive interview with VIN News, Baruch described himself as “just a simple boy who is trying to make a Kiddush Hashem in this country.”
While every citizen of Indonesia must declare a religion on their identity card, Judaism is not one of the approved religions. While years ago there were many Dutch Jews residing in the country, following the 1949 war which resulted in Indonesia claiming independence from the Dutch, many Dutch who lived in Indonesia left the country and the remaining Jews did their best to keep a low profile and hide both their Dutch and their Jewish roots. By the time thirty to forty years had passed, many were practicing other religions and like Baruch, were completely unaware of their Jewish heritage.
Captivated by the knowledge that he was Jewish after a conversation with a matrilineal great aunt, Baruch set about researching his family history and learning about Judaism. A trip to Singapore resulted both in Baruch meeting up with the resident Chabad shaliach and a firm commitment to Torah Judaism.
“It is difficult to get a minyan here,” lamented Baruch. “There are about five to seven people with the same background as me. Baruch Hashem I live in the beach area and we have many awesome fresh fish. I used to make shechita of chickens for our congregation, especially after kapparot.”
Baruch has made several trips to Israel and hopes to be able to make aliyah one day. The Ohel Yaakov synagogue has two sifrei Torah, but both are replicas, purchased in Meah Shearim. One is Ashkenazic and the other Sefardic, bought to ensure that the local residents will know what a real sefer Torah actually looks like. Baruch’s last trip to Israel was financed by a local politician who was recently elected to office and felt he owed Baruch a debt of gratitude after asking him to pray for his campaign.
Baruch relies heavily on the internet to interface with the Jewish world and broaden his knowledge of Judaism. A big fan of Jewish music, Baruch told VIN News, “Jewish music is the only thing that makes me feel Jewish in Indonesia. I love to hear Benny Friedman, MBD, Avraham Fried and many more on YouTube.”