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Kaifeng, China - Ancient Chinese Jewish Community Of Kaifeng Celebrates First Night Of Chanukah

Published on: December 6, 2015 04:35 PM
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Kaifeng, China -  A few dozen Chinese Jews in Kaifeng, China, gathered tonight with an emissary of the Shavei Israel organization to celebrate the first night of Chanukah 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.”

Freund 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.

In 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.


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Read Comments (6)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Dec 06, 2015 at 06:02 PM Anonymous Says:

Beautiful heartwarming Chanukah story. Yidden of BP, WB, etc. think the Jewish world starts and ends in their concrete daled amos.

2

 Dec 06, 2015 at 06:38 PM Esther Says:

The first time I ever rememberhearing about a community of Jews in China was when I read about it on the back of the menu in Shmulke Bernstein's.

3

 Dec 06, 2015 at 07:16 PM Aron1 Says:

With so many menorahs made in China, you'd think they would have no problem getting one.

4

 Dec 06, 2015 at 07:26 PM 54321 Says:

Amazing! Beautiful. Tzidkas pizrunu bein houmos..

5

 Dec 07, 2015 at 01:57 PM StevenWright Says:

Try eating latkes with chop sticks.

6

 Dec 07, 2015 at 02:20 PM IamYid Says:

Beautiful! Except that non of them are Jews, but such small details are easy to overlook...

7

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