TAIPEI (JTA) — In what is likely a first, an Israeli chief rabbi visited Taiwan last week, marking a milestone both for the island nation and the Jewish community there.
Last week, the Jeffrey D. Schwartz Jewish Community Center in Taipei welcomed Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau on a three-day visit which included a dedication ceremony for the community center, a regional summit of rabbis and a meeting with Israeli and Taiwanese officials.
About 30 rabbis from the region, including from Sydney, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Cambodia, attended the summit to promote cultural exchange throughout the region and celebrate the opening of the Jewish center, according to the Jeffrey D. Schwartz and Na Tang Jewish Taiwan Cultural Association, or JTCA.
COVID-19 travel restrictions had delayed Lau’s original plan to attend the official opening to the public in 2021.
“It was an honor to visit Taiwan and meet with the Jewish community here. I was impressed by their dedication to Jewish culture and traditions, and I am confident that the community will continue to thrive in the years ahead,” Lau said after the event in a statement.
Over the past decade, Taiwan’s Jewish community has undergone a dramatic revival thanks to the arrival of Rabbi Shlomi Tabib, who is affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, in 2011, and the efforts of the Taiwan Jewish Community, a nondenominational community with its own vibrant congregation in Taipei. Jeffrey Schwartz, a local businessman, split from the Taiwan Jewish Community group to start his own association and the $16 million center, which houses Tabib and his family.
The synagogue in Schwartz’s center is now used as an event venue by both Schwartz’s Chabad-run congregation and the Taiwan Jewish Community, which for years remained separated over intra-community squabbles.
With a goal of promoting cultural exchange between Jews in Taiwan and non-Jewish locals, Schwartz’s community center includes a Judaica museum, a mikvah and kosher restaurant, and it hosts tours and events open to the Taiwanese public. The volume of visits from local Taiwanese visitors over the center’s first year of operation is “one the most heartwarming accomplishments,” Schwartz said.
He added in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he hopes Lau’s visit will also help strengthen ties between Israel and Taiwan.
Don Shapiro, one of the earliest members of the TJC, which first officially registered with the government in 1979, attended the ceremony on Feb 21.
“I never imagined I would ever see a visit to Taiwan by the chief rabbi of Israel, let alone as part of a conclave of rabbis from all around the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “It was a testament to how the Jewish community in Taiwan — now home to two vibrant religious congregations and a Jewish cultural association — has been thriving in recent years after a period of great uncertainty.”