When one imagines the world’s largest, permanent free-standing Menorah, naturally one thinks of… Indonesia? That’s right. The biggest permanent Menorah in existence is not in Israel, America or Europe; it is, in fact, located in the world’s most populous Muslim country. The city of Manado, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, is home to a number of Indonesia’s less than 25 Jews (yes, that number is not a mistake; of Indonesia’s population of 238 million, barely 0.000001% are Jewish). But that tiny community has made a surprisingly big mark.
Jewish settlers arrived in the East Indies along with other Dutch settlers in the 17th century. Largely associated with the Dutch exploratory and mercantile efforts, the Jewish community was never large. It peaked at perhaps 2,000 during the early 20th century. After Indonesia became independent and the country Muslim-majority, most of the Jews converted or fled. Between 1945 and the 1960s, their numbers dropped to less than 100. A herculean effort of the Jews in the city of Manado, along with help from Christian neighbors, keeps the community alive.
In 2009, in a powerful if strange show of survival and community solidarity, the Jews of Manado erected a 62-foot Menorah on a mountainside overlooking the city. Featuring an interesting blend of Jewish and oriental artistic stytles, it is now a dominant fixture on the skyline. Although it is only a seven-branch candelabra, it is a popular rallying place for Jews gathering for the Hanukkah celebration.
The Manado Menorah is located on the outskirts of Manado, which is located on the northeastern most tip of Sulawesi, approximately 750 miles (mostly over open ocean) northeast of Jakarta. It is an open site. Web: www.north-sulawesi.org (official tourism website of North Sulawesi)