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Around the Jewish World Jewish Community of Shanghai Gets a Home As Its Numbers Grow

May 15, 2002
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If a community can be compared to a person, then the Shanghai Jewish community is now complete.

“Our sages teach us that a man without a home is not a complete man. The Shanghai Jewish community had no real ‘home’ for almost 50 years,” said Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, the leader of the city’s Jewish community for the past four years. “Today, when we celebrate the grand opening for our new home — The Shanghai Jewish Center — we become a complete community.”

Greenberg made the comments Sunday at the dedication of the Shanghai Jewish Center.

In 1998, Chabad-Lubavitch sent the rabbi and his wife, Dina, to Shanghai to help the city’s growing Jewish community.

“Dina and I felt that we wanted to go to a location that didn’t yet have a Jewish center available, yet needed one. Here we would have the challenge of building a community from scratch,” Rabbi Greenberg said.

The first years were busy and exciting, but not easy.

“It was time to stop wandering from location to location for our weekly services, holidays and other communal needs. We feel privileged to establish here a new and permanent home for the community that will serve the needs of every Jewish person in Shanghai,” the rabbi said.

More than 120 guests attended Sunday’s opening, including the U.S. and Israeli consuls general and Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Chabad World Headquarters, as well as Chabad emissaries based in Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Tokyo.

The first Jewish settlers came to Shanghai more than 150 years ago and soon became the largest Jewish community in East Asia. During World War II, thousands of Jewish refugees found shelter here from the Nazis, but most Jews left China after the 1949 Communist revolution.

By the mid-1950s, all Jewish communal activities in Shanghai had stopped.

Beginning with China’s opening to the West in the early 1990s, more and more Jews settled in Shanghai for reasons both professional and personal.

Shanghai’s Jewish community has become increasingly active in recent years. This past fall, community members succeeded in convincing the World Monuments Fund to add Shanghai’s Ohel Rachel Synagogue to its 2002 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. While the listing came with no financial reward, it raised the profile of both the 1920s synagogue and its Jewish community.

The community currently has nearly 250 members, and Greenberg says there are another 250 or so Jews living in Shanghai who are not yet on the official community list. It is an international community made up of businesspeople, professionals and students.

In addition, an estimated 10,000 Jewish tourists visit Shanghai annually. On Shabbat or holidays, many of them would like to have a place to join other Jews.

“Many people come here looking for answers or advice for their private Jewish needs regarding personal observance, marriage and regular life-cycle events,” Greenberg said. “The new center will serve those needs and welcome every Jewish person, regardless of level of observance or commitment.”

The four-story villa houses a synagogue, kosher restaurant, offices of the Jewish community, dining hall/meeting room and outdoor garden.

The preschool, run by Dina Greenberg, will move into the center in August, and plans for a mikvah have begun.

“The kosher kitchen and restaurant will make life here in China much easier for those who observe kashrut,” Greenberg said.

He calls the dining room and gathering area a “Jewish Starbucks,” for Jews looking for relief from Shanghai’s bustle.

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