For the first time since WWII,
Shanghai Jews celebrate a wedding inside the Ohel Rachel synagogue.
By the Associated Press
A glass was smashed, and a cheer went up. After months of
careful negotiations with the Chinese government, Shanghai's Jewish
community celebrated a revival last month as a historic synagogue opened
for its first wedding in about 60 years.
Shanghai has special meaning for the global Jewish population after it
took in tens of thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II. The
city's Jewish community and the foreign community at large soon faded
away, however, after the communists took over in 1949 and heavily
restricted both business and culture. For decades, the practice of
religion was discouraged, and places of worship were torn down or given
secular uses, such as storage spaces for grain.
But China's largest city is regaining its cosmopolitan reputation as the
country continues its dramatic rise, and the Jewish community of
foreigners now numbers more than 2,000.
Ohana, the president of the current community, still knew, however, it
would be hard to get access to the Ohel Rachel synagogue for his
daughter's wedding. Judaism isn't one of officially atheist China's five
recognized religions, because of the lack of native Jews, and the
community worships quietly, in local apartments.
Rachel, built in 1920 by an earlier Jewish community of businessmen with
roots in Iraq and India, remains in the hands of Shanghai's education
ministry. Once used as storage and now used from time to time as an
auditorium, it was named one of the world's 100 most endangered sites by
the World Monuments Fund in 2002 and 2004.
all of its Jewish decoration have disappeared, except for a plaque
outside the door, a star of David carved at the top of a dusty stairway
and a sign inside in Hebrew that says, "Be aware in front of whom you're
standing." It has opened just a few times a year for major Jewish
holidays after being rededicated 10 years ago.
a Moroccan businessman, decided to ask local Chinese academic Pan Guang
for help. Pan, the dean of the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai, began
a monthslong discussion with the government.
tried to explain the importance to the Jewish community," Pan said after
the wedding, as the crowd of about 400 in evening dress swirled by. Some
in the new Jewish community have family connections to the past, he
were at the wedding. "My father was a Russian Jew in Shanghai," said Jim
Kaptzan, a U.S. businessman who said his father came after fleeing the
1917 communist revolution in Russia. "He used to always tell me Shanghai
was the place to be. It's heartwarming to be in the place where my
father prayed freely."
Shanghai was famously cosmopolitan in the years before the communists
took over, and the Jewish community had its own schools, newspapers and
at least seven synagogues. However, "I would say from the middle of the
1950s to the middle of the 1990s, there was no Jewish presence here,"
said Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli art gallery owner who hosts tours of
Shanghai's other remaining synagogue, Ohel Moishe, is a Jewish history
Finally, with Pan's help, the Chinese government agreed to open Ohel
Rachel for the wedding. The synagogue was full, with warm conversation
in French, English and Chinese. The consuls for Israel, the United
States, France and Argentina and the Moroccan ambassador took their
places on the men's side of the aisle as young Chinese women in
traditional red silk gowns passed out delicate head coverings for the
us, being here tonight is a moving and very exciting event, and we hope
we will have many more events in this place," the Israeli consul, Uri
from Singapore and Beijing helped Rabbi Shalom Greenberg with the
wedding, while small boys with candles stood in front of the chuppah, or
the canopy where the ceremony took place.
Ohana, the father of the bride, welcomed the guests in
French but then changed to English for a single sentence. He looked at
Prof. Pan in the audience and said, "We will never forget what you have done