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With over thirty years of experience giving talks on the Chinese Jews, from the Tang Dynasty to the 21st century, China Orientations offers entertaining, educational, and inspirational talks on one of the most fascinating, yet least well known part of the Jewish diaspora, and the legacy that lives on today.
As early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907) Jews from Persia and India traveled overland across the Silk Road, settling in the 10th century capital of Kaifeng. There they built the first synagogue in 1163, on the banks of the Yellow River. A thriving Jewish community, complete with rabbi, Torah scrolls, and a synagogue with Chinese-style ancestral halls, marked the seamless blending of the Chinese and Jewish cultures, that would continue for a thousand years. Learn about this ancient community of Jews, their life in the Middle Kingdom, and their 21st century descendants in Kaifeng today.
When Jews from India and Iraq came to Shanghai in the late 1840s with the British East India Company, they not only made their own fortunes, but they left behind some of the most iconic architectural landmarks for the rest of the world still towering over the Bund today. The Sassoon, Hardoon, and Kadoorie families all developed some of the city's greatest business empires, presaging the economic powerhouse that is China today. There the Sephardis built the two first synagogues in Shanghai -- the Beth El in 1887, and the Ohel Rachel, in 1920 -- the only one still standing in China today.
In the early 20th century, Jews fleeing pogroms in Czarist Russia traveled overland across Siberia, settling in the Northern Chinese cities of Harbin and Tianjin. There they built thriving Jewish communities, complete with synagogues, chederim, Jewish newspapers, and hospitals. As the Japanese moved in to occupy Manchuria, they Jews migrated south to Shanghai, joining the Sephardi community which welcomed them and provided opportunities to start their lives over again. The Ohel Moishe Synagogue, built by Russian Jews in 1907, revamped in 1927, and made into a psychiatric hospital after the Communists took over in 1949, is now the home of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.
World War II Shanghai was both haven and refuge to thousands of Jews escaping Nazi Germany. There Sephardi and Russian Jewish communities worked together to welcome over 20,000 refugees who began arriving in 1938. Between 1939 and 1940, approximately 2,000 Polish Jews escaped to Shanghai, including the entire Mir Yeshiva from Poland, miraculously surviving the War. The Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1941 brought with it the creation of the Jewish ghetto in the District of Hongkou, where stateless refugees from Germany, Austria, and Poland were interned. Hear about the remarkable pastiche of Jewish life that was Shanghai during World War II.
This three-session mini course takes you on the journey of a thousand years, from the ancient Jewish community in Kaifeng, to 19th century Sephardi traders in Shanghai, to early 20th century Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia, to the final wave of Jewish refugees who escaped to Shanghai during World War II. Explore the unique bond between two of the oldest civilizations on earth, for the last nine centuries.