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.

Project allofasuddenpartJew: 2013 Recap

As the year 2013 comes to a close, I would like to reflect on the milestones this year for allofasuddenpartJew. From Limmud conferences in Hong Kong and Shanghai, traveling to Japan to visit the Chabad house, and walking around Jewish Lower East Side–I feel I have furthered my understanding of the Jewish people and beliefs.

  • Limmud - A Hebrew word that means learning, I attended my first Limmud conference in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Made a few valuable connections from the Jewish philanthropy and non-profit space.
  • Jewish Japan – Traveled to Japan (My new favorite Asian country) and spent Sukkot at the Chabad House of Tokyo. Many Japanese people are interested in Jewish people. Some Japanese believe they are descendents  of the lost tribes.
  • Melton Mini-School – After an initial Intro to Judaism course at the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, I felt I needed to go deeper. I enrolled in the Melton Adult Mini-School course at Ohel Leah Synagogue and have enjoyed the teachings from Rabbi Oser.
  • Chinese Studies - Continued my studies in relevant topics. I started to pursue an MA in Chinese Studies at CUHK to deepen my knowledge of China.
  • Jewish New York City - Visited NYC to visit Jewish enclaves like Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.

I have to be honest, I haven’t been keeping up with my social media as much as I would like. My social media stats for as of December 2013 are:

  • Blog – allofasuddenpartJew (83 posts)
  • Facebook – page under the same title (480 Fans)
  • Twitter – account under the same title (285 Followers)

Looking forward to 2014–the year of the horse in Chinese astrology. The horse is a highly respected animal in Chinese culture–one that symbolizes strength, agility, and endurance. Even the German carmaker BMW’s brand name in China is 宝马(Baoma), which literally means treasure horse, contains the character for horse.

Happy New Year 2014!

Chinese Year of the Horse

Chinese Year of the Horse

Brooklyn Hasidics, Jewish Lower East Side, and Rambam’s 13 Principles

Only a few days until Christmas! First and foremost, I would like to wish my Christian friends a Merry Christmas 2013. In addition, I like to wish secular friends from around the world a happy gift-giving holiday. Christmas these days has become such a capitalist tradition, even in China where Christians are the minority.

Now back to NYC….

I made the short journey out to Williamsburg Brooklyn to survey the Hasidic community of NYC. Women wore head wraps and dressed in all black. Men wore black suits and had long curly sideburns. I walked around Lee and Division Street enclave areas and saw lots of kosher markets and restaurants. It was like a step back in time where clocks stopped turning. I would pass homes and the young children would turn to look at me, as if they are wondering what’s she doing here….

After a visit to Brooklyn, I took a Jewish walk around Lower East Side of Manhattan. I stopped at the Tenement Museum and took a food tour–boy was that a great decision. Likely, the best tour I have ever been on. I got to taste pickles, cheese, bialys, and green-tea puff pastry. The guides at the Tenement were awesome and friendly–they made everyone feel at home and super welcome. A bit later, a few friends joined me to walk around a few key Jewish institutions around LES. We met at the Katz’s Delicatessen, a place so famous there were lines wrapped around the next block. We stopped at the Eldridge Street Synagogue right before Shabbat and walked over to the Angel Orensenz Foundation after. Two exquisitely beautiful synagogues in Lower East Side’s Jewish history. My friends and I stopped to refresh at a local diner. I made my way to Jewish Queens later that night–and to the La Guardia airport the next morning.

Last but not least, Maimonides or Rambam passed away today in 1204. He is a famous Jewish philosopher and scholar who changed the course of Judaism forever. It was he who created the Mishneh Torah, the widest and broadest Jewish Law available. It was also he who created the 13 principles of faith of Judaism. If you call yourself a Jew, per Rambam, you should believe in the following: (Source: Wikipedia)

  1. The Existence of G-d
  2. G-d’s unity and indivisibility into elements
  3. G-d’s spirituality and incorporeality (sorry Christians!)
  4. G-d’s eternity
  5. G-d alone should be the object of worship
  6. Revelation through G-d’s prophets
  7. The preeminence of Moses among the prophets
  8. The Torah that we have today is the one dictated to Moses by G-d
  9. The Torah given by Moses will not be replaced and that nothing may be added or removed from it
  10. G-d’s awareness of human actions
  11. Reward of good and punishment of evil
  12. The coming of the Jewish Messiah
  13. The resurrection of the dead

I left New York City yesterday and am now in the southern USA spending the holidays with family.

Until next time, let’s memorize these 13 principles! :-)

Frustrated but not defeated…

Last week, my mom’s DNA results came back. I took one look at it and thought this can’t be right.  She is showing to be 1/2 Japanese.

I’m getting a little frustrated right now as 2 DNA tests have come back empty….no signs of Jewish heritage.  Many thoughts are going through my head….Should I continue my search? Am I really part Jewish? Why do I care so much? etc. etc. etc.

I thought through some alternative methods to find and trace my Jewish ancestor.  23andme has a great online community.  I started a thread re: Chinese people with some Jewish heritage.  I got some great feedback from folks who are DNA experts. To my surprise, there is software that I can use to do additional/personal analysis on my raw DNA data.

Another method is to travel to China and do some field research, testing, and analysis.  Friends have given me names of China Jew experts, Israeli China Jewish tour organizers, and last but not least, I have a cousin who works for the Chinese government who I can possibly ask for help.

I’m really passionate about this.  Though frustrated with a few setbacks, I will not give up.  Quitting something that I’m passionate about is not what I’m about.  This journey will be continued……;)

(me in Hong Kong on a red junk)

To birthright or not to birthright, that is the question.

At my regular job in the finance industry, I have a lot of Jewish or quasi-Jewish co-workers.

In passing conversation with our Intern one day, whose dad is Jewish, mentioned to me the Taglit-Birthright Israel organization.  I googled it when I got home and below is a quick summary from their site of what they do:

“Taglit-Birthright Israel provides a gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 from around the world. Taglit Birthright Israel is a unique partnership between private philanthropists through The Birthright Israel Foundation; the people of Israel through the Government of Israel; and Jewish communities around the world (North American Jewish Federations, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel).”

Well, I am not in their age range but I did discover “some” Jewish heritage, however small… I wonder if I should apply? How do you prove if you have Jewish heritage or not, I certainly do not look Jewish.

Next steps, I will be checking out their events and going to meet some people involved with this organization.  More to come!

Chinese and Jewish Mahjongg Wars…

So, another week has gone by and my Jewish event of the week was, believe it or not MahJongg!

The AJC of San Francisco and the AsianWeek Foundation co-hosted a Chinese Jewish MahJongg event that I attended last night.

There were about 150 total players. It was my virgin Mahjongg experience, believe it or not. I was at the learner’s table and met a few interesting Chinese and Jewish beginners. We had a wonderful teacher named Toby Alice Salk. She taught the basics: i.e. the pieces involved, the rules, and the American or Jewish style of play. Jewish style mahjongg was a bit of surprise so I ask how it made it to the USA. Apparently, a business man brought it back to NYC from China back in the 1800′s. I really need to catch up on history – which I find so fascinating. We also got to preview a short documentary called “Tiles that Bind” that documents Jewish and Chinese ladies playing mahjongg together.

Until next time….;)

Join me on my journey to solve the mystery of my family….

My first blog at 29 years old. I am behind the times in the internet and digital age. It is never too late to start and catch up.

So, Allofasuddenpartjew project is now official. I have my official blog, twitter, and who knows what else will come up in this upcoming exciting journey.

My journey starts in San Francisco, California where I discovered my family has some non-Chinese blood. It turned out to be Jewish of all groups. Now I’m hungry for more knowledge on Jews, Jewish culture, history, and beliefs while furthering Chinese and Jewish relations without politics.

More info to come!

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