- Jews first arrived in Hong Kong when the territory was ceded to Great Britain by China in 1842. The Jews transferred their offices from neighboring Canton to Hong Kong and helped to develop this new port.
- The Hong Kong Jewish Community was first established in 1857. The first synagogue was set up in a rental house on Hollywood Street in 1870. A new synagogue in memory of Sir Jacob Sassoon's mother, Leah, replaced the older one in 1881.
- The Ohel Leah Synagogue was constructed in 1901, the communal cemetery being enlarged in 1904 to meet the needs of the community.
With the assistance of Sir Matthew Nathan, the only Jewish governor of Hong Kong, the Jewish Club, built by the Kadoorie family, was created in 1904 and enlarged in 1909.
The Jewish population, which had totaled 60 Sephardim in 1882, grew to 100 in 1921 (mostly Sephardim), and 250 in 1954 (half Sephardim and half Ashkenazim). Growth then slowed, and the population numbered only 230 in 1959, and 200 in 1968 (70 Sephardim and 130 Ashkenazim).
The Jewish community did not grow quickly, as most Jewish merchants were attracted to Shanghai, especially in the period from 1910 to 1936. However, the Japanese occupation of mainland China in the late 1930s caused many Jews to leave Shanghai, Tianjin, and Harbin for Hong Kong. The outbreak of World War II and the consequent Japanese occupation of Hong Kong temporarily suspended all Jewish activities there.