Ancient Chinese Jewish Community of Kaifeng Celebrates Hanukkah

Shavei-2A few dozen Chinese Jews in Kaifeng, China, gathered tonight with an emissary of the Shavei Israel organization to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah and light the traditional menorah candles. “The Chinese Jews take their inspiration from the Maccabees,” said Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund. “Even in far-off Kaifeng, the light of Jewish survival continues to burn brightly. Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people.”

Shavei-1Freund added that even “after centuries of assimilation, a growing number of Kaifeng’s Jews have begun seeking to return to their roots and embrace their Jewish identity. They are trying to figure out why it’s important to be Jewish and we want to help them have a stronger Jewish identity.”

Scholars believe the first Jews settled in Kaifeng, which was one of China’s imperial capitals, during the 8th or 9th century. They are said to have been Sephardic-Jewish merchants from Persia or Iraq who made their way eastward along the Silk Route and established themselves in the city with the blessing of the Chinese emperor.

Kaifeng SynagogueIn 1163, Kaifeng’s Jews built a large and beautiful synagogue, which was subsequently renovated and rebuilt on numerous occasions. At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Kaifeng Jewish community may have numbered as many as 5,000 people. But widespread intermarriage and assimilation, as well as the death of the community’s last rabbi, brought about its demise by the middle of the 19th century.

Nevertheless, many of the families sought to preserve their Jewish identity and pass it down to their descendants, who continued to observe Jewish customs. Currently, there are estimated to be approximately 1,000 Jewish descendants in Kaifeng. In recent years, Shavei Israel has helped a number of young Chinese Jews from Kaifeng to make aliyah to Israel.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in more than a dozen countries and provides assistance to a variety of communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim (referred to by the derogatory term “Marranos” by historians) in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, descendants of Jews living in Poland, and others.

Who Will Be The Modern Marco Polo?

Legendary Italian traveller Marco Polo, one of the first westerners to visit Hangzhou back in 13th century, described it as: “The City of Heaven, the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.” One lucky recruit is poised to follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo by landing their dream job and becoming the first foreign ambassador for Chinese tourism via a global recruitment campaign.
Hangzhou in south-eastern China is the destination for the Modern Marco Polo, who will enjoy a free 15-day journey into Chinese culture and secure a $67252.00 annual salary while promoting the city internationally for a year. Today, Hangzhou is one of China’s biggest cities but retains its beautiful scenery and attractions such as West Lake – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the Grand Canal, which is bidding to be grated the same status. The success of the Modern Marco Polo campaign led to Hangzhou being the most Googled destination in China in 2013.

Once recruited, the Modern Marco Polo will be treated to a 15-day trip to Hangzhou, including a four day tour along the Grand Canal. He or she will follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo before taking up the role of spokesperson to promote Hangzhou via social media. A shortlist of five candidates has been drawn from among nearly 26,000 worldwide entries and the Hangzhou Tourism Commission is now preparing to appoint one of them to the unique role. Mr Zhao Hongzhong, spokesperson for the Hangzhou Tourism Commission, said: “We’re looking for someone who possesses the qualities of the original Marco Polo – they should be an energetic and adventurous person who loves the challenge of the unknown. It’s vital that they enjoy exploring new things and sharing their stories from a different point of view. Zhao Hongzhong added: “The ultimate goal is to highlight Hangzhou’s many qualities as an ideal destination for tourists and a place where visitors have the chance to enjoy all that Chinese culture has to offer.”

The five shortlisted candidates are:

Brad Florescu https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (Romania) – Brad is a travel journalist who currently lives in Thailand. A travel blogger since 2006, he has received many local and international awards for blogging and photography. He is fan of storytelling and believes a good story makes a better world.

Benny Lance https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (France) – A keen cyclist, blogger and amateur video producer, Benny is originally from Eastern France and now lives in Paris. He has travelled extensively, having visited more than 30 different countries and believes the best thing about travelling is meeting new friends.

Kristie Hang https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (USA) – A TV host and social media enthusiast from Los Angeles, Kristie has travelled around China but hasn’t visited Hangzhou so far. She’s therefore keen to visit the city and is looking forward to experiencing authentic local life.

Dean Vowles https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (Australia) – Dean works for an advertising agency, specialising in social media. He is passionate about travel, adventure and exploring the folklore of a city and is looking to become a “living travel brochure” for Hangzhou.

Liam Bates https://www.youtube.com/watch?… (Switzerland) – A TV host, travel writer and university lecturer, Liam comes from a multinational background and grew up in Switzerland. Like Marco Polo, he first visited China when he was 17 years old and has had a love of Chinese Culture ever since. He speaks French, English and Mandarin.

 

Rethinking Plans to Close Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia

Among the wonderful aspects of our Jewish community in Philadelphia is the close relationship we have with the State of Israel. We do not take that relationship for granted. It comes as the product of hard work, constant communication and, perhaps most importantly, personal contact. The close personal contact we have with Israel in Philadelphia comes from the warm relationship which we have with the Israel Consulate and, specifically, the Consul General.

I was saddened to receive the news that the government in Israel is considering closing our Consulate. Understanding the financial burdens which weigh on the State of Israel, I am sympathetic to the need to cut costs in many programs.  At the same time, the work of the Consul General and the Consulate creates the close and warm bond which we feel toward Israel, ultimately impacting positively on Israel’s economy through our support. We benefit from the Consul and his office through his personal presence at so many of our synagogues and Jewish Institutions. He provides a friendly and knowledgeable voice for the State when he speaks, contributing strong support for Israel when she is attacked, a voice of reason, warmth and encouragement for those of us who work to support Israel. [Read more…]

Book Chat: Exodus to Shanghai

— by Hannah Lee

Heartbreaking are the testimonies of Jews who sought every avenue of escape from Nazi-controlled Europe, but were foiled at every turn, with diplomatic and bureaucratic obstacles. They had limited access to accurate news. They had limited resources to buy their freedom and even the ones with means and the forethought found themselves victims of covetous maneuvers. Nazi regulations forbade bringing most valuables from the country and limited cash to 10 Marks or $10 per person.

First-hand testimonies are found in a book published in July, Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich by Steve Hochstadt.

More after the jump.
As part of the academic Palgrave Macmillian studies in oral history, Professor Hochstadt’s research focused on the odyssey of 16,000 Jews who escaped from Nazi-run Europe and found refuge in Shanghai, China when all other doors had slammed shut. The book distilled the transcripts of 13 narrators chosen from over 100 oral histories conducted with the survivors.  

Most of the narrators left their homes in the frantic and brief period between the Anschluss (the occupation and annexation) of Austria in March 1938 and the beginning of war in September 1939. They came from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia and represent a cross section of all refugees. The book does not cover the odyssey of the religious Jews from Poland, including the entire Mirrer Yeshiva, who spoke Yiddish and dressed differently from the cosmopolitan Berliners and the Viennese.

Desperate and resourceful women found out that a visa to Shanghai could release their men from concentration camps. Assistance came from the philanthropic organizations, Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden in Germany and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York, including tickets to Shanghai for the poorest families.

In the 1930s, Shanghai was the banking center of Asia and “an open port where the Chinese Nationalists and Communists, organized gangsters, Western capitalists, and the Japanese military competed for authority,” wrote Hochstadt. “Extremes of wealth and poverty jostled in the crowded streets.” Upon arrival, the refugees experienced culture shock in the form of the tropical heat, an alien language, and wartime inflation.  

The marvel was that the refugees quickly developed a community in exile, with Jewish institutions and forms of self-governance. The Austrians even created a café life on the streets of their new home. The most ambitious and successful creation was the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association School, affectionately known as the Kadoorie School. About 600 students enrolled in a curriculum of religious and secular subjects, taught in English by the refugees and modeled after Jewish schools in Germany.

“The remarkable thing about Jewish life in Shanghai until 1943 is that there was no persecution,” wrote Hochstadt. The Japanese already controlled most of the city but, while they were allies of the Nazis, they adopted a completely different policy toward Jews. They finally took action on February 18, 1943, when they forced all “stateless refugees” who’d arrived after 1937 to live within less than a square mile in the neighborhood of Hongkou. However, the February Proclamation showed “the ambivalent nature of the Japanese attitude… the word Jew was not mentioned in the Proclamation ,” and the existing Baghdadi and Russian Jewish communities in Shanghai were spared.

With the end of the war, these refugees again had to find new places to live. Nearly all refugee families wanted to leave Shanghai as soon as possible. “Very few had been able to create a life they wanted to continue in China. Remaining in post-colonial China…meant learning and adopting Chinese culture; only a handful of European Jews accepted that challenge,” wrote Hochstadt.

Illustrative of the enormous difficulties for displaced persons after the war, one of the last groups to leave Shanghai, 106 of them without U.S. visas, were supposed to travel across the Pacific on the “General Gordon,” but the Chinese refused to allow the ship to anchor offshore.  So, on May 1950,

the refugees had to take a train to Tientsin, then board barges in heavy seas to get out to the ship. When they arrived in the United States, they were put on a sealed train and transported across the country to Ellis Island…In June, another boat took them to Bremerhaven [Germany], and they entered DP camps, where they stayed for one more year. Finally they were given visas to the United States in 1951.

By the time of the Chinese Communists’ Cultural Revolution in 1966, the Jewish communities of Shanghai “were just a memory.”

The book gives the history of the slight majority of the Shanghai refugees who came to the United States. Life in the United States meant assimilation, letting go of their German culture. They had to adjust to a new world order. One refugee, Lisbeth Loewenberg, reminisced about her adjustment to stability:

My first job that I found after one week when I walked around, that was with Collier’s magazine. This place took subscriptions, they had salesmen go running around and selling subscriptions to Collier’s and Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan, and so on, and I processed these orders. People took subscriptions for one year. I said, “But how do people know that after one year they will still be at that address?” I couldn’t believe in permanence anymore. I was completely shocked that some people took two-year subscriptions. It floored me. But you don’t know where you are going to be tomorrow, was my reaction. And life has actually always seemed to me not permanent.  It’s all just transitory.

Remarkably, these refugees, most of whom had been children or teens during the years in Shanghai, can even look back and say, as did Doris Grey, that they were “the best years” of her life. Another, Gerald Kohbieter, said, “It was a lifesaver. The Chinese were polite people, and they put up with a lot with us…There were some frictions, but all in all, I must say there were good hosts.”

The resilience of youth allowed many of them adapt to, and even profit from their refugee experiences. Lisbeth Loewenberg said,

All the barriers fell. It didn’t make a difference, what does your family do…because everyone was there and started from scratch, nil, nothing, in Shanghai. All things being equal, if all people start under the same adverse conditions, this is where your true ability will show or your true survival instincts or your enterprise…Don’t ever blame the condition, blame yourself.  Because under the most impossible conditions, some people will make it one way or another.

Professor Hochstadt earned his Ph.D. in History from Brown University, taught at Bates College in Maine for 27 years, and is now professor at Illinois College. He has just published another Holocaust oral history, Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt (Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine).

Negotiation 101: A Cross-Cultural Case Study

— by Hannah Lee

How much you know about yourself counts as much as how much you know about your opposing partner at the negotiating table, said the much-loved and much-lauded Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine in a presentation on Sunday for the Brown Alumni Club of Philadelphia at Bryn Mawr College. The case study he presented was the on-going negotiation between Google and the government of China, which began in 2005. What I learned was far more applicable to me in my personal relationships.

More after the jump.
Plan before hand, said the Professor, and know what you want. In Google’s case, the goals range from: providing users high-speed access to information, earning profit, and enhancing its reputation, i.e., promoting itself as the search engine of choice. Google’s mission used to be, “Do no evil,” but, noted the Professor, the company no longer touts its ethical origins while pursuing profit.

The government of China, in contrast, wants to protect its own Internet search company, Baidu [ranked #4 in the world in 2006 after Google, #3, MSN, #2, and Yahoo, #1]. It faces a brain drain of scientific and technological expertise, and wants “the sea turtles to come home.” While China wants access to cutting-edge technology, it also wants to set limits on Internet use to maintain its political power.

Next, you have to understand the other side, taught Dr. Hazeltine, who began teaching at Brown in 1959 and won the Senior Class award for teaching for 13 consecutive years until it was named in his honor in 1985. The Google negotiators had difficulty interpreting the cross-cultural signals. Chinese protocol prohibits saying no or making other strong statements. To save face, a Chinese negotiator may nod, but the gesture does not reflect consent.

“Process” is also different for Chinese bureaucrats than for American technocrats.  Consensus is often arranged beforehand, or behind the scenes. The Chinese tend to look at the whole picture while Americans tend to deal with line-by-line details. Google has learned to unbundle issues and make multiple product offers, each “a whole picture” by itself.

During the negotiations, you must build trust and listen to the other side, expounded Professor Hazeltine, who now has 577 students– almost 1/10 of the undergraduates– enrolled in his popular ENGN 9 course, Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations. “We’re born with two ears and one mouth for a good reason”– we should listen more than we speak. In Google’s discussions with the Chinese, informal meetings are crucial in building trust.

Be patient, advised the Professor, and be ready for post-settlement deals. In 2010, Google protested Chinese censorship of its search engine and moved operations to Hong Kong. Last week, Google and all of its major services were blocked in China on Friday, as the Communist Party met to appoint new leaders for the first time in a decade. The case is not closed yet.

One interesting tip from the audience came from an alumna who has found it useful to invent a hierarchy, even when she has the ultimate authority to make a decision, because she wanted more time to consider her options. This I later learned was an example of a classic negotiation tactic called “agent with limited authority,” in which the limits can be real or assumed.  With my children, I’ve given them carte blanche to label me the “bad cop,” when they need an excuse to fend off peer pressure.

Another audience member suggested a major difference between the Americans and the Chinese is the concept of time. Yes, agreed the Professor, citing the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 that ended the Vietnam War– the Americans reserved hotel rooms for the negotiations, while the Vietnamese bought real estate.

Professor Hazeltine’s newest course in social entrepreneurship and appropriate technologies stems from his years teaching consulting in Botswana, Malawi, and Zambia.

Another personal lesson came after the official presentation, when my husband and I met another inter-racial couple and we shared with each other the pitfalls of misunderstanding each other’s cultural cues. Marriage is comparable to business and international diplomacy, in which the two partners may come from different backgrounds and they have to find common ground and a common language to express their goals. Learning Professor Hazeltine’s strategies for negotiation may even help strengthen your marriage, but hopefully you’ll fare better than Google has in its relations with China.

Author Chat: Israel Among the Nations

— by Hannah Lee

It’s the best of times for Israel and the worst of times, says Jonathan Adelman, in a presentation exploring Israel’s new relationships with former enemies and their implications for Israeli foreign policy. Professor Adelman is affiliated with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and the author or editor of 10 books on international affairs.  He has been sent by the U.S. State Department on 14 international speaking tours to a dozen countries, including England, Germany, Spain, Russia, China, India and Japan.  He spoke on behalf of Israel Bonds at Lower Merion Synagogue earlier in October.

More after the jump.
Israel’s challenges for defense, compared to the United States, is its lack of strategic depth — it has only three major cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa — and a population density in which 92% of Israelis live on 3400 square miles.  (The Negev in the south has 58% of the land mass, but only 8% of the population live there.)

It’s the best of times because Israel enjoys a robust economy, with the highest average living standards in the Middle East and a per capita income in 2000 that exceeded that of the United Kingdom. On a per capita basis, Israel has the largest number of biotech start-ups and it ranks  second in the world for venture capital funds after the United States.

It’s also the worst of times, with a destabilized Middle East and the greatest existential threat to the world in the last 100 years with the prospect of nuclear capability in Iran. (The estimates for their possession of an atomic bomb range from only 3 months to a year.) It is a nation of almost 6 million  Jews surrounded by 27 million Arabs. However, he’s no Biblical Jeremiah  preaching doom. He sees hope in Israel’s relationships with the former Soviet Union, India, and China.

As a Soviet scholar, Adelman ironically sees Russia as the preferred enemy to Iran, because the Russians are pragmatists, not ideologues, and he thinks that the KGB in effect protected the world from over 40,000 nuclear weapons.  

India is Israel’s new friend: it recognized the state of Israel in 1992 and in January of this year, it signed a free-trade agreement that’s worth $15 billion a year. There is military cooperation and an understanding of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism from its neighbor, Pakistan.

Russia is another surprising ally, where a recent American Jewish Committee poll found more Russians in favor of Israel than from anywhere else, even though two-thirds of these same people would not vote for a Jewish leader for their own country.  Why the new warmth?  Israel was founded on the mold of Russian socialism; 60% of its citizens are from the former Soviet Union*; and it has lost everything else in the Middle East, including Syria. They acknowledge that Mossad and Tzahal, the Israeli Defense Forces, are the best intelligence and military outfits in the world.

Learning from the Chinese who’d successfully harnessed the earning power of its overseas Chinese in its rapid transition from communism to capitalism, the Russians have invited Israelis to manage their own Silicon Valley, Skolkovo.

China is another wary new friend with Israeli consulates in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Relations with Japan are okay, but Israel cannot rely on Japan, with its dependence on Persian Gulf oil, a weak military, and a surprising recent history of anti-Semitism (as documented in the number of anti-Zionist books landing on their bestselling lists).

I did not attend Professor Adelman’s second presentation on “The Middle East and the New World Order,” about why the Middle East (except for Israel and Turkey) seemed unaffected by global social transformation — and if the future may be different.

Note: Wikipedia reports that according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, of Israel’s 7.3 million people, 75.6 percent were Jews of any background.[1] Among them, 70.3 percent were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) – 20.5 percent from Europe and the Americas, and 9.2 percent from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries.

New Website Shows Romney’s Iran Ties

— by David A. Harris

Today, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a microsite, titled Mitt Romney and Iran, showing the troublesome economic ties Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has to Iran. While Romney tries to talk tough on Iran, he allowed his personal investments and Massachusetts’s pension fund to directly benefit from business with Iran.

Jewish voters deserve to know the numerous financial ties Mitt Romney has with Iran. Governor Romney often talks a good game when speaking about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but when he had the opportunity to act-both as governor and with his personal investment-he came up far short. Former Congressman Mel Levine summed it up best:

If Romney has seemingly gotten away with this … in the name of gaining even more personal wealth, imagine what he would do as president when he actually has the responsibility to make tough decisions to stop Iran.

You can visit Mitt Romney and Iran by clicking here http://romneyandiran.com/.

Background after the jump.
The website Mitt Romney and Iran details Mitt Romney’s personal investments and the various ties many of his investments have with Iran. Such companies include China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Gazprom, and BNP Paribas. The website also covers various companies involved with Iran that the Massachusetts pension fund was invested in during the time Romney served as governor of the state. These companies include the AXA Group and Barclays.  

Romney Little Different From Obama On Foreign Policy

— by David Streeter

Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta noted in the Los Angeles Times today that for all of his bluster and smears regarding the President’s foreign policy — including border-line “belligerent” statements — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has yet to state what exactly he would do differently from the President on a wide range of issues.

Highlights of article follow the jump.

Romney has roughed up Obama with a hawkish tone – at times bordering on belligerent. Yet for all his criticisms of the president, it has been difficult to tell exactly what Romney would do differently.

He has argued that reelecting Obama will result in Iran having a nuclear weapon – without explaining how. He has charged that Obama should have taken ‘more assertive steps’ to force out the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad – but has said he is not ‘anxious to employ military action.’ He accused Obama of tipping his hand to the Taliban by announcing a timeline for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but also accepts the 2014 timeline.

Romney’s approach could be seen in his take on the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist who in early May sought shelter at the American Embassy before leaving his country. As Americans officials negotiated over his fate, Romney suggested that the Obama administration had put Chen in danger to placate the Chinese.

He said that if reports he had heard were true, ‘this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.’

Two weeks later, when Chen arrived in New York, Romney declared himself ‘relieved’ and said the episode ‘underscores the need for the United States to forthrightly stand up for the human rights of the Chinese people.’

At no point did he elaborate on how his approach would have differed from Obama’s.

Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says he does not yet see ‘a huge difference’ between the foreign policy approaches of Obama and Romney.

‘A lot is made of Romney’s tough talk with respect to Russia and Iran and China, but even there it’s not like I see a dearth of toughness on the part of President Obama,’ Preble said….

Foreign policy is not Romney’s strength; 2008 GOP nominee John McCain defeated the former Massachusetts governor in primaries that year in part because of his international expertise. In Washington Post-ABC News poll last month, 53% of respondents said they trusted Obama to do a better job handling international affairs. Thirty-six percent picked Romney….

On Iran, Romney frequently faults Obama for waiting too long to put ‘crippling sanctions’ in place on the central bank and the petroleum industry, measures that the Obama administration agreed to late last year. But when asked what further steps Romney would take to crack down on Iran, campaign aides said they were keeping an eye on legislation working its way through Congress that would put sanctions on regime officials and that Romney’s main task would be to make sure the current sanctions are vigorously enforced.

In addition, Romney has said he would do more to support dissidents in Iran and make it clear that military action by the U.S. is a real option (something Romney charges Obama has failed to do, though the president has repeatedly said all options are on the table).

Which Country Might End Up Censoring The Internet?


Is it China?

Is it Iran?

No, it is the United States.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a tyrannical bill that would severely limit what’s possible on the internet. Today, many websites have blacked out for the first time ever as a protest to oppose the bill.

Participating websites include:

Email and tweet at your friends, tell them to tell everyone about the strike. When the day comes, , tweet like crazy (#SOPASTRIKE), and call Congress. A special website has been created to connect you with your Senator.

Thanks.