JBuzz News August 15, 2012: Jewish studies flourish in China

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jewish studies flourish in China

Source: The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A., 8-15-12

Yes, there is a burgeoning Jewish studies presence in the most populous country in the world. The most established program in the country is based at Nanjing University, and it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year….READ MORE

JBuzz Features June 20, 2012: Jewish Studies Programs in China: Ancient Jewish proverb says…

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Ancient Jewish proverb says…

What is the latest academic rage in China? Science? Medicine? Computers? How about Jewish Studies? A Center for Jewish Studies recently opened in China offering degrees up to the PhD level and there are already over 200 students. Although there has been a Jewish community in China for centuries with a very complicated history, we don’t tend to think of China as being a place in which Judaism would be a topic of study. All the more surprising that the Jewish program is well funded and growing rapidly….READ MORE

Naim Dangoor: Which country has 10 Jewish study centres? (And it’s not obvious)

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JEWISH STUDIES — UNIVERSITY NEWS

New professor Naim Dangoor

A delegation of professors from a leading foreign university flew to London last Friday to honour a British supporter of their country’s burgeoning programme of Jewish studies.

Philanthropist Naim Dangoor, who is 97, was made a consultant professor of China’s Nanjing University in an award ceremony held in his Kensington apartment.

“We are very proud that you are now one of us,” Nanjing vice-president Xue Hai Lin told Professor Dangoor, newly decorated in his black and red academic robes and sporting a black mortar board with red tassel.

Nanjing’s Institute of Jewish Studies opened in May 1992, just a few months after Israel and China established diplomatic relations. According to Professor Xu Xin, director of the Nanjing Institute and president of the China Judaic Studies Association, there are now around 10 Jewish studies centres in the country.

Nanjing’s 800-page Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Judaica is the standard reference work on Judaism in the country and its other works include a how-and-why of antisemitism as well as a translation of Martin Gilbert’s Atlas of Jewish History. Iraqi-born Prof Dangoor said that he was “greatly honoured” by his award, which he received along with a gold thread embroidered tapestry of a kirin, a mythical beast which signifies good luck, prosperity and a long life….READ MORE

Dvir Bar-Gal: Cultural Exchange: Preserving the relics of Shanghai’s vanished Jewish population

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Source: LAT, 7-17-11

Gravestones, many plundered or built over, are symbols of a forgotten group. Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli expatriate, works to preserve them.

Cultural ExchangeJewish gravestones being unearthed from Shanghai villages. (Dvir Bar-Gal)
By Dan Levin, Special to the Los Angeles TimesJuly 17, 2011

Reporting from Shanghai ——

The green fields on the western outskirts of this vast metropolis are dotted with ripening ears of corn, trash and the skeletons of half-built villas abandoned by bankrupt developers. But Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli expatriate and photojournalist, saw none of these as he trudged toward a putrid creek, his eyes scouring the ground. Rather, he was looking for something far older: gravestones buried in the mud — the lost relics of this city’s vanished Jews

“When I go out to these villages filled with peasants it’s almost like I’ve gone back to another era,” he said. “Sometimes I’m lucky. Suddenly I’ll see Hebrew letters or a Jewish star poking out. Then I have to dig it up.”

Since finding one for sale at a Shanghai antique shop 10 years ago, Bar-Gal, 45, has made it his mission to find the Jewish tombstones that once stood in four cemeteries belonging to the real-estate barons, bankers and penniless refugees who settled here before the Communists took power in 1949 and expelled China’s foreigners. During World War II, around 30,000 Jews fleeing Hitler found safe haven in the open port of Shanghai, where they built synagogues, Yiddish theaters and yeshivas even as the occupying Japanese forced many to live in a cramped ghetto.

If the Nazis failed to wipe out these Jewish lives, China’s Communist Party succeeded in erasing their deaths. In 1958, the government relocated all foreign graves to one international cemetery, which was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, when locals plundered the gravestones to use in construction. Although the Jewish bones are irrevocably lost, Bar-Gal, a blunt, balding man who left behind a job covering the chaos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to devote himself to documenting Shanghai’s Jewish history, refuses to allow the elaborately carved markers to be consigned to the trash heap.

“It’s harder and harder to find them now because of all the development,” he said, pointing to new houses rising nearby.

In collaboration with the Israeli consulate, Bar-Gal has so far found 105 gravestones and has created the Shanghai Jewish Memorial Project tracking down the descendants of those who died and documenting their lives. He hopes one day the gravestones will become part of a Jewish memorial in the city’s Hongkou district, which once housed the ghetto and the Ohel Moshe synagogue, now a museum of Shanghai’s Jewish refugees. But, according to Bar-Gal, the district government has denied his request, claiming the gravestones would bring bad luck.

So they languish, cracked and broken, stored in a warehouse and piled up in a parking lot at the city’s Buddhist cemetery, which was once the international cemetery. With no one to look after his collection, the gravestones sometimes go missing. In April, Bar-Gal received word that two were on display at the Shanghai Burial Museum, which also functions as a crematorium….READ MORE

Dvir Bar-Gal: Shanghai’s Jewish history

Shanghai’s Jewish history

 Source: AP, 6-5-11

Not far from the Bund district in Shanghai, with its hordes of tourists and view of the city’s famous skyscrapers across the Huangpu River, is a quiet neighborhood called Hongkou.

Walk here along Zhoushan Road and you’ll stumble on a sign that signifies an otherwise unremarkable building at No. 59 as a landmark.

“During the World War II,” the sign reads in imperfect English, “a number of Jewish refugees lived in this house, among whom is Michael Blumenthal, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury of the Carter Government.”

The marker offers a clue to the hidden Jewish history of Shanghai and the incredible story of thousands of Jews who fled the Nazis and found refuge here in what was the Far East’s only Jewish ghetto. Among them was Blumenthal, who fled Europe with his family, spent part of his youth in Shanghai, then moved to the United States.

The best way to learn about this unusual slice of Jewish and Shanghai history is on a tour with an Israeli expat, Dvir Bar-Gal. But be warned: This is no superficial glance at the highlights; this is a five-hour, $60 mini-course with Bar-Gal as professor. With his encyclopedic knowledge and intense passion, he brings to life a vanished world, attracting visitors from every continent, many of them descended from the Jews who survived World War II only because they found refuge in Shanghai.

“No other place in the whole world saved so many Jewish lives,” Bar-Gal said, adding that “there is no anti-Semitism in China.”…READ MORE

Israel Studies Seminar in China Beats Obstacles

Source: JTA, 7-27-09

Chen Yiyi, a Peking University academic, said he was glad his institution was hosting the first major Israel studies seminar in China. “But you can’t imagine how much trouble it took to get here,” said Chen, a scholar on the Hebrew Bible and Jewish culture. Despite many obstacles in putting on the workshops this month, the seminar completed its week at the university with positive reviews from the participants before moving on for two more weeks at Shandong University in Jinan.

As the most prestigious institution of higher learning in China’s capital, any programming at Peking University, or PKU, is subject to intense scrutiny. When the university applied for approval to host the seminar from the Ministry of Education, the application was immediately passed to the Foreign Ministry, Chen said. “They said an Israel studies seminar was a sensitive topic, could we cancel the seminar—or maybe rename it?” Chen recalled, saying the ministry wanted to omit the Israel studies aspect in the title.

Israel studies programs are relatively new in China, where Hebrew language and Jewish cultural studies were around as early as the mid-1980s. PKU founded its Hebrew language program in 1985, mostly for national security reasons. While the Chinese are known for respecting Jews for the very reason they were historically demonized in the West—a fabled talent for money management – their Chinese impressions of Israel are more mixed.

The idea of Jewish professors lecturing on topics such as Zionism or Islamic radicalism to a room of Chinese academics raised concerns among school administrators and government officials. China’s relationship to the Arab world played a part, too. China has become increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are relying more and more on Chinese markets. The growing affinity was a major factor in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation agreeing to fund the seminar. “China is now concerned with understanding the Muslim world,” said Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and one of the seminar lecturers…..