Kosher River Cruises, fresh from our Jewish heritage tours through Europe, is embarking on a new journey through the Mekong River of Vietnam and Cambodia. Hundreds of years ago, France colonized a large chunk of the Indochinese peninsula, using the local waterways to transport people and supplies. During this era, a man named Jules Rueff established a shipping company, one that would prove to be a major force in the navigation and postal business conducted through the Mekong.
About Jules Rueff
Jules Rueff was an Alsatian Jew, born in Paris on the 16th of February, 1854. Jules was a ship-owner and started his path as a navigator at an early age. He went to the French-occupied Indochina in 1872, a year after the annexation of Alsace by Germany, and initially tried to set up a railway line in Cambodia. He was not successful, but in 1880-1881, he established the Messageries Fluviales de Cochinchine (River Shipping Company of Cochinchina), a postal service that navigated the waters of the Mekong.
The Messageries had a huge influence on the region. Company steamboats ferried people and cargo up and down the Mekong in service of colonial Indochina. The company funded infrastructure projects and expeditions that helped improve navigation along the river. Messageries Fluviales prospered, but the business itself was not exactly clean, as its wealth can be traced to unfair taxing of material and passengers, along with its unyielding grip on the Mekong steamboat business. Nevertheless, its influence continued up to the early 20th century, where it gradually faded in power and prestige.
From his heritage in Alsace to the waters of Cambodia and Vietnam, Jules showed tenacity and a strong sense of will that left a small but significant mark in history. He was made Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur (commander of the legion of honor) at the beginning of the 19th century, in honor of his contributions to France.
Mainland Southeast Asia is no longer under colonial rule, and this 2020 we too will sail the Mekong on one of several kosher riverboat cruises for that year. We will not sail on a steamboat, or embark in a colonial context, but will explore the rich culture of Vietnam and Cambodia on a kosher cruise that brings new and rich experiences.