PROFILE

Moshe's father vanished after Japan attacked Singapore home

BY SIMON YAFFE

MOSHE ELIAS has always been fascinated by the Bible. So much so, his new book, The Messiahs of Princep Street (Writersworld, 10), is the Genesis of a Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) of novels he is writing.

The Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers novels are finished - and Deuteronomy is in progress.

"In Genesis, God declares the Jews are separate from all others," Moshe said. "That is the theme of the book."

In the book, Adam Messiah is born into a modest Jewish home in Singapore.

During the Second World War, Japan occupies the island for three-and-a-half years and he is interned with his family.

The Jews are the only local people imprisoned as a whole community.

Adam grows up with a father who gets all his answers from the Bible until he dies.

London-based Moshe was born into a Jewish family in 1934 in Singapore.

Like the majority of the community, they were of Iraqi descent. Jews migrated to Singapore soon after Sir Stamford Raffles established it as a trading post in 1819.

Moshe, who was one of four children, explained: "Jews were in Singapore before it became a British colony.

"Growing up there, the community never numbered more than 2,000, but we also had some refugees from Europe, too."

One of the most famous members of the Jewish community was David Marshall.

Best-known for being the first chief minister of Singapore, he also served as its ambassador to France, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal - and was a friend of the Elias family.

The Jewish community lived among Malays, Indians and Chinese and, Moshe said, the Jews were treated a little better than those other ethnic groups by the British.

"They still had their antisemitism, though," he recalled.

"The Jewish community was a religious one and synagogue was always full on the big holidays."

On December 8, 1941, when Moshe was seven, Japan attacked Singapore.

The island surrendered 10 weeks later - Winston Churchill called it the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history.

Moshe, his mother, Dinah, and three sisters were evacuated to Bombay, where they spent four years.

His father, Ezekiel, who was an elder of the community, was picked up by the Japanese - and never seen again.

Moshe explained: "I remember a Jewish family of four suffered a direct hit from the Japanese.

"My father came home, pale as a ghost, and told us, 'right, that is it, you're going away'.

"He was picked up by the Japanese because he happened to be in the street at a particular time.

"I don't think the Japanese were antisemitic - but they certainly didn't like the Chinese and the whites."

After the family returned to Singapore - and found out Ezekiel had disappeared - Moshe went to Scotland to read naval architecture at university.

"It was only then that I discovered our white masters in Singapore lived in grubby black buildings in Britain, bathed once a week and had to be encouraged to eat more fruit on giant billboards," he recalled.

"It was, I suppose, not so much a culture shock as a rude awakening.

"I remember having to bargain with my landlady for a kettle of hot water twice a week for a wash in the hand basin."

He later returned to Singapore, where he practised naval architecture for the government and set up an engineering consultancy.

The father-of-four and grandfather-of-seven, who is married to Egyptian-born Yemima, moved to England in 1977.

Their children were already at schools in the country.

Moshe, who has also lived in Israel, added: "Members of the Singapore Jewish community had left in large numbers.

"Now, I would say there are only around 300 to 400 there.

"There has been a large influx of Israelis, as well as British and American Jews, who have gone there for business."

 
© 2015 Jewish Telegraph

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