The Hong Kong Jewish Community was formally established in the 1850s in premises leased by the Sassoon family. The construction of Ohel Leah Synagogue (OLS) began with the laying of the foundation stone in 1901, by Abraham Jacob Raymond the senior member of E. D. Sassoon & Co, in a project initiated by the Sassoon brothers, Jacob, Edward and Myer. The initial structure was completed in early 1902 and formally dedicated by Sir Jacob Sassoon in commemoration of his mother Leah.
OLS has been in continuous use since its completion with the exception of a short period during World War II when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese. During that time all formal Jewish activities were temporarily suspended as the Japanese had seized control of OLS and many community members were interned. OLS is built in a colonial style and incorporates elements from the Edwardian free classical-style. The exterior is flanked by two impressive octagonal towers and the interior is based on a simple rectangular basilica plan with a relatively open floor plan. The polished Aberdeen granite columns, central elevated bimah enclosed by carved wood balustrades on three sides, and heavy, rich wood benches are reflective of our Baghdadi and Sephardic heritage. The women’s gallery, located on the second storey, runs along three sides of the sanctuary. Significant wear and tear over nearly a century, as well as a series of ad hoc additions and alterations led to the decision to embark on a large scale restoration and conservation program. The project commenced in 1996 and was completed in 1998. A formal rededication ceremony was held on October 18, 1998. The restoration received an Outstanding Project Award in the inaugural UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2000 Awards.