Jewish heritage has a fascinating way of entwining itself with the cultures of the rest of the wider world. Just this January, the royal family of Cambodia celebrated its first Bat Mitzvah, recognizing the Jewish heritage of the daughter of one of Cambodia’s princesses. Susie Koroghli is the granddaughter of His Majesty King Monivong. She married Ray (a Persian Jew who emigrated to America because of Iran’s 1979 revolution) and converted to Judaism.  The Bat Mitzvah of her daughter Elior was served with Kosher food, catered by the Chabad of Cambodia. One of our Jewish heritage tours for 2020 will take us to Cambodia, whose royal family’s history is one that’s greatly intertwined with its search for independence. 

Photo Credit: jewishcambodia.com

After the Khmer Empire

The gradual decline of the Khmer Empire was the result of many possible factors, from invasions to infrastructure to even shifting state faiths. The centuries between Angkor’s decline and the French Protectorate are not very well-recorded, hence its reputation as Cambodia’s “dark age.” What was known is that its culture remained intact, in spite of constant attacks from its warring neighbors and its capital city being moved twice over the centuries. However, in the middle of the 18th century, Siam and Vietnam were threatening to absorb Cambodia and might have done so if it weren’t for the decisions of its king. 

Under French Rule

Norodom Prohmbarirak was the King of Cambodia from 1860 to 1904. To protect his nation, he signed a treaty with France, making his country their protectorate. Although he later became a puppet king under French rule, his decision saved his country, reigning for a long 43 years. While Cambodia was their protectorate, France moved the capital to Phnom Penh and began industrializing the area. The next few kings of Cambodia were carefully examined by the French, including Norodom Monivong, interfering with the royal succession so that Cambodia’s royal figureheads were pliable to their will. That is until the French authorities made a mistake. 

Independence and the Modern-day

Norodom Sihanouk was the grandson of Monivong, chosen by the French believing that he was easier to handle than his father. Sihanouk, however, was not easily swayed, and when the Japanese took control of French-controlled Indochina, he used the ensuing conflicts to push for Cambodian independence. With the help of his family, he negotiated with France and through perseverance, Cambodia was peacefully granted independence in 1953. 

In the modern-day, while the royal family of Cambodia does not strictly have the same absolute power as the rulers of old, the symbolic impact of the king among the Cambodian people remains significant in their culture, attending ceremonies and representing the nation overseas. The current king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni, met with Susie Koroghli’s family after her daughter’s bat mitzvah, a new chapter in Cambodia’s royal history. On our kosher cruises through mainland Southeast Asia in 2020, we will visit various places of Cambodian royal legacy, such as the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. 

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