Did you know that the barking deer is just one of the rare mammals that calls Thailand home? Really, I couldn’t make this up! Until quite recently, however, I thought that a barking deer was only a creature that existed perhaps in a cartoon or video game. It was my good college buddy Jamie who recently shared with me the news of this interesting creature from her home in Bangkok.
Jamie is an American citizen who had lived here in the United States all her life. Up until recently, that is, when she decided to travel to Bangkok, Thailand to work with the Goodwill Group. She has been working with disadvantaged Thai women to help teach them basic computer skills, and also teaches English classes for 3 hours a week. The tenure of her stay is planned for 4 months… but at this point I’ll be surprised if she ever comes back! In each email she writes me, all Jamie can do is rave about how wonderful Thailand is, and how welcoming all of the people are. Plus, Bangkok is definitely a foreigner-friendly city. The American dollar is the most widely accepted foreign currency there. Bangkok is the spiritual, economic, and political center of the country. It holds an eclectic mix of both old traditions, such as street markets, and new attractions, such as a huge shopping mall called the Siam Center.
Thailand is known of the “Land of Smile”, and according to Jamie’s emails the people of the city of Bangkok are super friendly, charitable, and hospitable. A term that is commonly used in Thailand is “nam jai”, which means helpfulness. Jamie’s job really does personify the spirit of nam jai. Working with the Goodwill Group is a role that obviously brings countless rewards. The women are so grateful to her that they have begun calling her Jaidee, which in Thai means “good hearted,” instead of her American name.
One of Jamie’s concerns in moving to Bangkok for 4 months was that she would not have a place to attend Shabbat morning services. The country of Thailand is 95% Buddhist, so she assumed that there would not be a Jewish community in Bangkok. How pleasantly wrong she was! Thailand has always stood for religious tolerance. Because of this, a little over 100 Jews escaped from Nazi Germany in the 1920s by fleeing to Thailand. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, Jews began to immigrate from America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. In 1964, the Jewish Community of Thailand was established.
For services, Jamie attends Beth Elisheva, a synagogue in Bangkok. The synagogue was consecrated in 1979, and was named in honor of Elizabeth Rosenberg, Zerner, who was the first Thai born daughter of the first Jewish citizens in Thailand. The synagogue maintains both a Sunday school and a nursery school, and even has a communal barbecue every other week, followed by English classes. From what Jamie has written, it seems that Beth Elisheva has truly made Bangkok feel like home.