Journey into the Jews of China’s Past: Kaifeng (开封)

Technology is wonderful but it can also cause major havoc!  Case in point, I took my iPhone with me to Kaifeng, took many videos and photos.  I left it in Shanghai and did not have any access to my Shanghai and Kaifeng notes, videos, nor photos for over 1 month.

Kaifeng (开封)

I headquartered myself in Zhengzhou and took a bus to Kaifeng.  The first day that I was there, I visited the Chinese portion of the city.  Many temples, former palaces (now under water), and the Kaifeng Museum. **Henan is the province south of the Huang He (River) and it gets flooded often.**  I saw a picture of the former Kaifeng Synagogue but could not find the former site of the synagogue, only the surrounding area with a hospital that now takes its place.

The second day I called up Esther, a descendent of the Jews of Kaifeng, WSJ article (Chinese Jews Face Existential Questions) and visited the Kaifeng Jewish Memorial Center.  It is located in a tiny hutong (胡同) or alleyway called Nanjiaojing or South Teaching the Torah Lane. Esther was friendly and kind and showed me the Center with all sorts of Jewish knickknacks, books, and memorabilia on the walls.  Her family is from India and they moved to Kaifeng over 1000 years ago to do business with the Chinese. If you didn’t know already, Kaifeng and China at the time was the center of culture and civilization in the world.  People from all over the world moved to Kaifeng, China looking for opportunities (not just Jews). [Sort of like the USA today :)]

Over the years, Jews of Kaifeng integrated seamlessly into Chinese society and lived peacefully side-by-side with the Chinese.  In the beginning they kept to themselves and married other Jews, but starting with the Ming Dynasty (1368?) they were required to assimilate with the Chinese, as the Ming Emperor only allowed Chinese people to live in China.  Slowly the Jews of China lost its core culture and with the major flood in the late 19th Century, went their synagogue.  Now only one of a handful left, Esther is passionate about her cause and speaks with force about her family and people’s history.  Pictures of notable Jewish and Israeli visitors spread throughout the walls serve as proof of its importance in Jewish Culture.

She is looking to rebuild the synagogue that was lost in the great flood in the late 19th Century.  Now let’s help her cause and change the minds of people by educating them about Jewish history in China.

Enjoy the photos. For more photos, visit my Flickr

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Kaifeng, Henan, China

Hutong to Chinese Jews21 Teaching the Torah LanePlaque in HebrewJewish gifts galoreKaifeng SynagogueMy friend Esther
Jewish Goodies CabinetEsther teaching her historyMy Shadow and the SynagogueFacade of the Kaifeng Jewish Memorial CenterLooking down the LaneSign of Kaifeng Jewish Center
Found the correct Hutong!More Jewish goodiesA closer lookEsther, descendent of Kaifeng JewsEsther and ILast Pose
High Speed TrainLooking out the WindowCapital of HenanTypical Food of HenanTypical Food of HenanTofu of the region

allofasuddenpartJew1’s photostream on Flickr.

I got my iPhone back! My journey to Kaifeng to visit Jews from 1000 years back through Instagram.

Jews of Ancient China, Kai what? Oh, Kaifeng….!

Back in San Francisco last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article called “Chinese Jews face Existential Questions” in their Asia section.  A friend forwarded the article to me at work and I devoured it quickly.  Before my own discovery, I had no idea Jews existed in China, nor did I care (that’s another story…)…

According to this article, Persian Jews arrived in Kaifeng around the 11th Century as merchants and traders.  They married the local women and rose to become mandarins and military officials.  They were able to keep a distinctive Jewish culture intact until around 1860, the date when their synagogue was destroyed in a flood and never rebuilt.  The timing for this is still off for my great-great-grandfather.  He could be a descendent….or not…..too early to tell!

I did some more research myself on Kaifeng.  It is located in Henan province, just west of Shanghai (my hometown).  Henan is known as the cradle of Chinese civilization, meaning it played an important role in political and economic history of China back in the glory days.

I think this calls for a trip to Henan province, namely Kaifeng for me in the near future! If you have gone, email me!