Yours truly binding tefillin at The Great Wall of China.
As I wrote in a previous post, a few years ago I was in China conducting research for a script I was hired to write by one of the major Hollywood studios. The script turned out well—an unusual tale of love and loss in 1930’s China—but typical for this town the film was never produced. It was horrifyingly expensive and shooting in China presented all sorts of logistical problems the studio wasn’t prepared to deal with.
I was aware of the history of Jews in China, but did not have approval from the government to seek out and meet Chinese Jews. The Communist government kept a tight rein on us.
The morning we visited The Great Wall of China, our guides/government spies roused us in the middle of the night. The idea was to arrive at The Wall at sunrise. I wasn’t able to daven, pray with my tefillin at such an early hour, so I shoved my tallit and tefillin in my backpack and prayed—very quickly—at The Great Wall of China.
There was a minor ruckus, a few hard-eyed and extremely suspicious soldiers wanted to know what the foreign devil was doing. My Spy leaped forward to explain that I was “praying to my ancestors.”
The soldiers watched me for a few minutes, then got bored and marched off.
My Spy kind of begged me to cool my Jewish jets in public.
Here’s a wide view of The Great Wall. My Guide/Spy told me that slave
labor built the wall. When the slaves died—on the job—their bodies were mixed
with the mortar or just thrown into the foundations of the massive structure.
Here’s a brief video that gives some background on the history of Judaism in China.
Here’s the good news:
Ben-Gurion Airport was the setting for an unusual scene late Tuesday night, as seven young Chinese men wearing kippot arrived via Uzbekistan to make aliya.
The newcomers, who were brought here by the Shavei Israel organization, are all descendants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, which flourished on the southern banks of the Yellow River for more than 1,000 years.
It marked the first time that an organized group has moved here from Kaifeng.
“I am very excited to be here in the Holy Land,” said Yaakov Wang, one of the new immigrants. “This is something that my ancestors dreamed about for generations, and now, thank God, I have finally made it.”
Full story at The Jerusalem Post.
And hey, let’s give a mazal tov to Shoshanah Li, recently married to an American Jew in Israel.
Fo those of you who don’t know Hebrew the man speaking to the camera, Michael Freund of Shavei, explains that there are about a thousand Chinese Jews waiting to make aliyah to Israel and go through the Orthodox conversion process.
Note: There has been so much intermarriage among Chinese Jews that halachically—according to Jewish law—they are no longer Jewish. The conversion, which entails deep study for over a year, affirms their faith and commitment. Thousands of Russian and Ethiopian Jews have also gone through the conversion process.
The Jewish Chinese woman, also speaking Hebrew, has been living in Jerusalem for five years. She explains that when she was growing up in China her parents told her that they were descendants of Jews: “We lit Shabbat candles, drank wine, and read the Torah. That’s all we could do.”
I am humbled by the commitment and faith of these Chinese Jews.
Also humbled in the presence of the great Chinese actress Gong Li. I use any excuse to post this photo.
Pearl S. Buck authored Peony a novel about the Jews of ancient China. Not a great novel, but interesting.