Chinese Jews Feel More at Home in Israel
The Los Angeles Times looks at China’s small, ancient Jewish community in Kaifeng and the few members who have moved to Israel:
Jin and her relatives belong to a community of Chinese Jews that was established in the 9th century by Persian traders who traveled along the Silk Road to Kaifeng, at the time China’s capital.
Records documenting the group’s history are spotty, but experts do know that some of the Jewish traders settled in Kaifeng and eventually built a synagogue with official recognition from the emperor. After the last rabbi in Kaifeng died in 1809, many began to forsake their religious practices while holding on to certain traditions, like the prohibition against pork and the celebration of a communal meal on Passover.
Then in 2005, Shavei Israel arrived. The privately funded conservative religious organization, based in Jerusalem, specifically targets descendants of Jews who have lost their connection to the religion, such as those forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition in Spain.
“Chinese have a strong reverence for ancestry,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “Even though they don’t know how to read the Torah, they know they’re Jewish.”
So far the organization has helped 14 Jews, out of an estimated 3,000 who live in Kaifeng, move to Israel. But Freund complained that Israel’s bureaucratic and religious red tape has prevented Shavei Israel from bringing over more of these Chinese Jews.