Today in Singapore we got a chance to see inside a synagogue here. Built in 1878 the maghain aboth synagogue is the oldest one still standing in the region. Even with a guide there was considerable security to get into the building. The building had two levels with the upper balcony level reserved for ladies. When there is a small congregation they sit downstairs but behind a screen. The two main parts are the ark in which the torah is kept and brought out to be read during services and the bimah where the rabbi standing during services (and it supposedly faces East). Most of the chairs also had people’s names on them meaning they’ve paid for a permanent seat for themselves.
Most of the first wave of Jewish settlers came from Baghdad and were mainly traders between Calcutta and Singapore. Their decendents are considered the only remaining indigenous Jews in Asia.
Manasseh Mayer who founded the synagogue built a private one for his friends and family as this one got crowded over the years. Also as Jewish settlers from Europe came in there was some friction over the different modes of worship for the two communities contributing to the formation of two synagogues. Would love to have a look at that someday as well.