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Chinese scholar shares devotion to Jewish past

Time:2014-10-27 10:33 Source:未知 Writer:cjss read:
Chinese scholar shares devotion to Jewish past
‘It’s almost my life,’ Shanghai professor tells hosts of AJC get-together

 
Pan Guang, left, receives a warm welcome from Michael Curtis, center, and Herb Horowitz.
Photo by Marilyn Silverstein
 
 
by Marilyn Silverstein
NJJN Bureau Chief/PMB
March 17, 2009
When Pan Guang was a little boy growing up in Shanghai, he was interested to discover that one of his neighbors was Jewish, recalled the Chinese scholar as he engaged in a recent interview with New Jersey Jewish News.
“That initial interest became academic interest,” said Pan, who now serves as the Walter and Seena Fair Professor of Jewish Studies and dean of the Center of Jewish Studies in Shanghai.
“In China, never anti-Semitism,” he said. “Never indigenous or spontaneous anti-Semitism — but somehow imported, by missionaries, or imposed
“Now, we have first kosher restaurant in Beijing,” he said with satisfaction. “Many Chinese come there — even Chinese Muslims. The cook is Chinese. The supervisor, of course, is rabbi. The food is Chinese food — only in kosher way — so, for many Chinese, no problem. In Shanghai will be another one, so we can make arrangements for Orthodox Jews, because we have more and more Jewish tourists.”
Over the years, said Pan, he has made more and more Jewish friends.
“I’ve been to Israel many times,” he said. “So, a lot of impact in my life. I read a lot of Jewish books, Jewish history. It’s almost my life.”
In mid-February, Pan opened a window onto that life during a meeting of the Central New Jersey Chapter of American Jewish Committee at the Princeton home of Michael Curtis and Judith Brodsky.
Getting him there was a coup for the chapter, according to president Herb Horowitz — a coup that evolved out of a chain of events that began last November, when the United Nations invited Pan to speak at a program commemorating the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
At the time, AJC’s executive director, David Harris, issued an invitation to Pan to address a group of the organization’s leaders. Horowitz, who attended that session, mentioned to Pan that he and his wife would be traveling to China before the year’s end, and Pan offered to host them in Shanghai.
When they arrived there, Horowitz said, Pan gave them a personal tour of the Shanghai ghetto, which served as a haven for some 35,000 Jews during World War II. When he learned that Pan would be visiting the United States in February, he jumped at the chance to host the scholar in Princeton.
“He is an amazing resource,” Horowitz said, “when you think that he is the only person in China who has devoted his life to studying the Jews of China and, particularly, the whole experience of the Shanghai ghetto, and out of that he has come to know the Jewish community all over the world. He’s really the historian of that whole period. We’re very fortunate.”
‘Creativity and variety’
Pan’s talk in Princeton was titled The Jews in China: Legends, History, and Perspectives, and he shared those perspectives through a series of 80 slides on Jewish life in China. He spoke about the four waves of Jewish immigration to China — in the eighth century, when Jews traveled over the Silk Road to Kaifeng; in the mid-1800s, when Sephardi Jews moved to Singapore and Hong Kong from Baghdad and Bombay; in the early 1900s, when some 40,000 Eastern European Jews immigrated to Harbin; and in the months after Kristallnacht, the Nazis’ dark night of shattered glass in 1938, when Shanghai became the world’s only city to hold open its doors for Jews in flight from the Holocaust.
One by one, images filled the screen as Pan spoke — the Chinese-style synagogue in Kaifeng, the Jewish Hospital in Shanghai, the Jewish school in Tianjin, members of the fabled Sassoon and Kadoorie families. One slide showed the Jewish Cemetery in Harbin, another the memorial stone for Yosef Olmert, the grandfather of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is buried there.
“I think the case of China, in many respects, is unique,” Pan told the 25 guests who had turned out for his talk. “The country is free of native anti-Semitism. So in this environment, the country provided a very hospitable environment for Jewish life.
“The Jewish community played a very important cultural role in China,” he added. “There were outstanding intellectuals. The influx of them infused the Jewish community in China with creativity and variety.”
A case in point, he said, was the Mir Yeshiva of Poland, whose students and teachers found shelter in Shanghai from Nazi Europe.
“They miraculously survived the Holocaust and continued their studies in Shanghai,” Pan said. “After the war, they moved to New York and Jerusalem. I visited both. I was welcomed warmly — like a hero. They say, ‘You are from our home city.’ So we are very proud that we provided a haven for the Mir Yeshiva.”
Pan showed photos of the Kadoorie School for Refugee Children in the Hongkew section of Shanghai and of a Passover seder in Hongkew. Several photos depicted Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, who supported the establishment of a Jewish state. Others shined a spotlight on Maurice “Two-Gun” Cohen, an aide-de-camp to Sun Yat-sen who served as a general in the Chinese Army, and on another Jewish general, Dr. Jacob Rosenfeld, who spent a decade commanding the Chinese Army’s Medical Corps.
“Relations between China and Jews are basically very friendly,” Pan said. “The culture and traditions of the Jewish community were enriched by the host country, China, and at the same time, [the Jewish community] also exerted an influence on the cultural and social life of China. It had a very important influence on the musical life of China, and in the medical area, also.
“The Chinese and Jewish cultures share a lot in common,” he said. “Both emphasize family and educational values. The two oldest civilizations in the world are Judaism and Confucianism.”
Chinese people have a great interest in the Jews in their history and in their midst, according to Pan.
“This topic is very hot,” he said. “Not only academic topic. Also, public interest, because people want to remember.”
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(Author:cjss)