Situation: Be’Chol Lashon Diverse Jews Birthright Trip

If you are a Jew of diverse origins (AKA: not Ashkenazi), you probably have heard of Be’Chol Lashon, hebrew for “In Every Tongue.” It is an organization dedicated to advocating for the diversity and growth of the Jewish people. Its Mission consists of growing and strengthening the Jewish people through ethnic, cultural, and racial inclusiveness. I have been following them on various social networks since my Jewish discovery in 2011. A few weeks back, I got an e-mail from the organization about a Birthright Israel trip for diverse Jews. My ears perked up, eyes got big, and forgot what I was doing in that moment. My full attention refocused on this Israel trip for diverse young people. The only caveat is the age criteria; 18-26 year olds only, and I discovered my “Jewishness” at 29. Now it is 2014, do the math, and I’m way over the maximum age according to Birthright’s rules.

Undeterred, I sent an e-mail to Lindsey Newman, program coordinator for the trip. I explained by situation, shared this blog and asked some advice about my situation. After all, it is unfair to impose an age limit on someone who discovered Judaism at a later age. Lindsey wrote back and suggested I email Birthright directly; as they do grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis. She also shared Be’Chol Lashon’s blog and asked if I would be interested in contributing a piece. The blog is hosted on MyJewishLearning, a leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. I responded with an affirmative yes and Lindsey connected with Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder to work out the logistics. Rabbi Ruth is Be’Chol Lashon’s Rabbi-in-Residence and is based in San Francisco, California. I have been following her on Twitter for almost 3 years and reached out when I was researching Judaism sects. My next step is to brainstorm an interesting and engaging topic. 

I sent Birthright a message explaining my unique situation and ask for their advise on the diverse Jews Israel trip. It is rare and difficult to meet “diverse Jews” in Asia. This trip would be a great way to know other Jews in my situation-while seeing and experiencing the beautiful Israel. It’ll also be a great way to expand my knowledge of Jewish people’s diversity, outside of China and Asia. I’m awaiting a response from Birthright and will keep you all posted on my progress.

In other news, I have finished my Masters of Arts in China Studies. I am job hunting in Hong Kong while freelancing for various small businesses. So glad to be free of school! It feels so good to finish writing research papers and essays. I have realized that I have no interest in being a scholar–writing academic papers aren’t really my thing. My core skills are marketing, communications, and consulting. Teaching, writing, and editing round out the top of my interest list.

I will finished here. Will keep you all posted on my progress. I’m sure all will work out alright, G-d willing. Until next time.

love,

Xiaoming

A Successful #MakeitHappen

Earlier this month, my #MakeitHappen project with the Schusterman Family Foundation came to life.

The School of Architecture at the Chinese University, a brand new state-of-art campus, hosted the event. Participants woke up extra early on a Saturday morning to learn about the intersections of Chinese and Jewish history. I was really amazed by the diversity of the audience, it really shows that many are interested in Jewish history in China and Asia on a larger scale.

A video of Founder Lynn Schusterman and President Sandy Cardin speaking on Schusterman’s core mission and values opened the event. The audience learned about the core theme of inclusion that drives the foundation and their philanthropic giving to better the Jewish world and in turn, the broader world. After that I briefly introduced myself, the speakers, and flow of the event to the audience.

Next I presented an overview of the major Jewish immigrations to China. For the Kaifeng segment, a video of a Kaifeng Jew Shi Lei. I couldn’t invite Shi Lei, a descendent of Kaifeng Jews to speak, so I did the next best thing and purchased a DVD of him speaking. The history of Jews of China can be traced back to the Song Dynasty when China was at the height of its ancient empire. Jews came to China for business reasons, similar to today.

Brian Skerratt, a Harvard PhD and lecturer of Chinese poetry at the university presented on (half-)Jewish identity in America. He also worked in various Yiddish words and taught the audience some Ashkenazi Jewish vocabulary. The audience said the new words out loud for practice during the interactive talk. The event concluded with a screening of the award-winning documentary by Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann, Shanghai Ghetto. It tells the harrowing tale of 20,000 Jewish refugees without a place to go during Nazi Germany during World War II, where Shanghai was their only hope. A delicious catered vegetarian lunch buffet and open networking brought the event to an end.

The content available for the Chinese and Jewish topic is rich and diverse. This first event is only scratching the surface.

Soundbites and Feedback

“The event was great, interesting, inspiring, educational and well-organized,” said Hong Kong Chinese participant Sherry Ha.

“I really didn’t know what to expect so I came here with a big open mind and I was impressed with the wide range of people in the audience and the diversity of the things we saw” said British-Jewish participant Catherine Ben-David.

Event Flyer
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Jewish Shanghai: The Moller Villa Story

If you plan to visit Shanghai, there is a building that you should not miss. Its official name is Moller Villa, named after Eric Moller, a Jewish resident of Shanghai in the early 20th century. When I had a seventeen-hour layover last week, I decided to stay there overnight—it has since been converted into a hotel. Located on South Shanxi Road in the former French foreign concession area, Moller Villa is a sight for sore eyes. It may seem out-of-place to the virgin traveler. In the midst of modern apartment buildings, shopping centers, and a lot of traffic noise—this villa is a tranquil place of relaxation.

According to local legend, Eric Moller built this Villa for his beloved daughter in 1936 after she had conveyed her dream of having a fairytale castle. Moller was a Swedish-British merchant who first came to Shanghai in 1919. After much success in the shipping business, he became well-known in Shanghai elite circles and a member of the notorious Shanghai Race Club. He invited many different architects to design the Villa to become his own private residence. The end product is a hybrid-fusion style that includes Western and Eastern architectural elements.

The building today still stands in its original condition, protected by the local Shanghai government. At the entryway to the villa, there is a plaque that explains its current status in Shanghai. The plaque states in English and Chinese that it is an “Important Monument under the State Protection.” Not bad for an almost-decade old foreign structure. The villa itself is a mix of browns and reds intermixed with a layered-brick feel. The pointed rooftops give the boxy rectangular structure a much-needed softness by drawing the eyes from the ground to the Shanghai skies. Two traditional Chinese lions flank the front steps providing an interesting mix of East and West styles.

A small garden covers the area to the mansion’s immediate side and back area—easily accessible from the front door and back porch of the restaurant area. A small creek flows through the miniature garden flanked by tall hundred-year-old trees. The wooden foot-bridge takes you from one side of the garden to the other—transporting you through the world the Moller family built.

Once you step inside the main hotel area, if feels as if you are living in Europe. The tall stained-glass windows are covered in nature designs of greens, pinks, and shades of gray and black. Elaborate crystal chandeliers reflect the outside sunlight throughout the check-in area. Lush upholstered couches lay opposite of the wooden check-in area—welcoming guests to a villa fitting for a gentleman and lady. Photographs of the Moller family, his horseracing, and the villa’s stories in Shanghai history line the walls.

Next time you are in Shanghai for a 24-hour layover or longer ;-), try exploring Moller Villa and add it to your itinerary. It is a gem of a sight for the modern age.

Limmud: Shanghai 2013

Start of Limmud ShanghaiJDC SessionNetwork Impact by Seth CohenSeth getting ready for interviewJDC Talk into Ohel Moshe SynagogueDestination Shanghai
Outside of Ohel RachelOhel Rachel SynagogueOhel Rachel SynagogueOhel RachelOhel Rachel windowBeautiful architecture
Yours Truly outsideYours Truly outside 2Holocaust Memorial ServiceInside the synagogueBookshelfThe Service Crowd
The Service CrowdHutong to Chinese Jews21 Teaching the Torah LanePlaque in HebrewJewish gifts galoreKaifeng Synagogue

allofasuddenpartJew1′s photostream on Flickr.

My second Limmud Conference. Shanghai, China. Day 1-4. Jewish learning to the max.

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