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October 10, 2003 - Image 70

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-10

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Around The Jewish World

Jewish Life In China

On mainland China, Jews can choose Chabad or liberal.

BUZZY GORDON
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Beijing

R

TVW

10/10

2003

70

osh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur are known the
world over as holidays
when Jews come crawling
out of the woodwork to attend worship
services.
The People's Republic of China in
5764 is no different. The number of
Rosh Hashanah celebrants in the Jewish
communities of Beijing and Shanghai
swelled significantly this year, as individ-
ual Jews from remote cities like
Kunming and Shijiazhuang joined with
the Jewish residents of mainland China's
two most-important cities to pray.
And even in China, Jews had their
choice of three congregations —
Chabad-Lubavitch centers in each city,
and Kehillat Beijing, which, while unaf-
filiated, identifies with the World Union
for Progressive Judaism, a Reform move-
ment.
Perhaps no less important than the
High Holiday services were the mile-
stones marked by each of the two com-
munities on the Sunday preceding Rosh
Hashanah.
In Shanghai, the community wel-
comed the first Torah to belong to a
synagogue in that city since Jews started
returning there after World War II
refugees had departed.
In Beijing, meanwhile, a mezuzah
went up on the first Jewish preschool
the city has ever seen.
Jewish life indeed flourishes these days
in mainland China, which enjoys the
fastest rate of economic growth in the
world.
Hong Kong, whose Jewish communi-
ty is larger than Beijing's and Shanghai's
combined, is a special autonomous
.region.
Expatiate businessmen, journalists,
professionals and students — not to
mention Israeli diplomats and company
representatives — continue to pour into
the bustling cities of Shanghai, with its
16 million people, and Beijing, the
national capital, whose population totals
14 million.
The first congregation to be estab-
lished since the Communists came to
power in China in 1949 was Kehillat
Beijing. Its origins date back to 1979,
the year Deng Xiaoping's "open door"

policy went into effect.
Kehillat Beijing's founders and current
leaders, Elyse Silverberg and Roberta
Lipson, say that in the early days, their
efforts focused on getting together for
Passover and the High Holidays, which
were usually celebrated at the homes of
members. The community's first seder
took place in 1980.
In 1995, the community coalesced.
While Kehillat Beijing receives some
educational and spiritual support from
the World Union, the congregation is
mostly self-led, holding
regular Friday night servic-
es and Shabbat meals in
the Capital Club of
Beijing.
Before Chabad opened
here, the number of wor- •
shipers on Rosh Hashanah
and Yom Kippur would
reach close to 200.

women and children gathered together
to figuratively cast their sins into a
Chinese lake surrounded by willow trees
and stocked with brightly colored gold-
fish. Readings in Hebrew and English
were divided equally among members of
both congregations.
"Events like tashlich, Chanukah and
Purim are easy to celebrate together,"
says Lipson, one of the Kehillat Beijing
leaders.
"The issue of equality of women does
not enter into the picture on those occa-

mainland Chinese city with the richest
Jewish heritage.
According to Rabbi Shalom
Greenberg, who arrived in Shanghai
with his wife, Dina, in 1998, more than
200 people attended Rosh Hashanah
services, held at a hotel opposite the syn-
agogue, which is in a spacious villa on
the western edge of the sprawling
metropolis.
The small local Jewish community of
permanent residents and frequent busi-
ness visitors, many of whom are
Sephardim, has appointed the Chabad
rabbi as their community rabbi.
The demand for kosher food is great
in Shanghai as well, and the Greenbergs
oversee a thriving kosher meal service
providing lunches or dinners seven days
a week.
The food is not inexpensive by local
standards, and upon request, a Chinese
driver will deliver meals by van to offices
sions. Although we celebrate these
and homes even at some distance from
opportunities for unity of the whole
the Shanghai Jewish Center.
Jewish community of Beijing, I'm afraid
While most of Shanghai's historical
there will always be issues of belief and
synagogues have been demolished, two
practice on which we differ."
remain. Ohel Moishe, the most promi-
The two congregations each drew a
nent Askenazic synagogue in the Jewish
share of the community on Rosh
ghetto during World War II, is now a
Hashanah.
museum.
Kehillat Beijing drew a smaller-than-
Ohel Rachel, similar in architecture to
usual crowd of approximately 100 wor-
many Sephardic synagogues throughout
shipers, while Freundlich reports that
south Asia, is being lovingly preserved
about 150 attended services held at an
by the community, which opens up the
expanded venue, the Sheraton Hotel,
house of worship on special occasions.
which catered kosher food for the third
Last week, it was opened for the dedica-
consecutive year.
tion of a new Torah, held amid great fes-
Some 130 Israelis remained apart
tivity and to the strains of Jewish
from the community, as the newly con-
melodies performed by Chinese musi-
structed Israeli Embassy hosted a Rosh
cians from Nanjing, under the direction
Hashanah dinner, without services, on
of an American Jewish bandleader who
Friday night.
once played with Shlomo Carlebach.
The new preschool is also a unifying
The building itself, centrally located
force. Children ages 3-6 play and learn
closer to downtown, is in such dire need
together in the school, called Ganeinu
of repair that the World Monuments
— Hebrew for "our kindergarten."
Fund, a nonprofit group that preserves
monument sites worldwide, included
the synagogue on its recently published
First In The World
endangered structures list.
Moreover, Freundlich and Lipson are
Greenberg told JTA he was pleased
contemplating the rental or purchase of
the international community had rec-
a large house that could be converted
ognized the needs of Ohel Rachel.
into what they say would be the first
"We hope the magnificent synagogue
Jewish community center in the world
can be restored to its original beauty,
sponsored jointly by Chabad and a lib-
and most important, to its original pur-
eral congregation.
pose: to be used as an active and thriv-
Meanwhile, 650 miles to the south,
ing Jewish center for Jewish people cur-
Chabad is the only game in town for the rently in Shanghai."
Jewish community in Shanghai, the

Shanghai and Beijing Jews
marked historic milestones
lust before the Holidays.

In Rabbi's Home

Chabad, which is active in Asia, came to
its newest outpost in Beijing in 2001.
Led by Rabbi Shimon Freundlich and
his wife, Dini, formerly of Chabad
Hong Kong, the Orthodox Chasidic
synagogue operates out of the rabbi's
home.
After every Shabbat and holiday serv-
ice, the large living room is swiftly trans-
formed into a dining room, where strict-
ly kosher multicourse meals are served.
The rabbi says that two or three times
a year, he brings a shochet, or ritual
slaughterer, from Australia and a
Western-style butcher from Beijing to
Inner Mongolia, where they slaughter
cows and chickens to provide kosher
meat for the communities of Beijing and
Shanghai.
"I prefer this method to Hong Kong's
importation of frozen kosher meat from
Australia," Freundlich says. "I want
Beijing to be as self-supporting a Jewish
community as possible."
Freundlich says Chabad has come to
Beijing not to displace the liberal Jewish
community, but to complement it.
"We are here to pray together as one
unified community," Freundlich
declared at tashlich services celebrated
jointly by both congregations on the
afternoon of the second day of Rosh
Hashanah.
It was an inclusive gathering as men,



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