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Kehilat Shanghai's purpose is to ensure that Jewish peoples from all backgrounds feel at home in Shanghai today and for generations to come, and to celebrate Jewish culture and traditions in a progressive spirit.
Our community is comprised of singles, families, interfaith couples, seasoned entrepreneurs, executives, young professionals, teachers, students, artists. You are s welcome and encouraged to join our groups and attend our events.
Kehilat Shanghai is affiliated and strongly supported by the WUPJ (World Union of Progressive Judaism) and its regional arms: The UPJ (The Union of Progressive Judaism) in Australia and the UJC (United Jewish Congregation) in Hong Kong.
By Rebecca Kanthor
A version of this article appeared in Tabletmag.com on September 17, 2015
A well-traveled Torah relic rescued from Nazi Germany has made its way
to China—via Brazil—to serve a lay-led liberal congregation in
Shanghai, China, that was in need of a Torah in order to conduct Rosh
Hashanah services. The Torah, which has seen several repairs over the
years and dates back to 1939 Germany, was welcomed with open arms by
members of Kehilat Shanghai during the fledgling congregation’s Rosh
Hashanah services—the first to be held in the former Ohel Moishe
synagogue, where European Jews took refuge during World War II, in
over 60 years. The Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum is now housed there.
Kehilat Shanghai’s intimate and uplifting Rosh Hashanah services were
led by Rabbi David Wolfman, visiting from Boston. During the
ceremonies Wolfman invited all of the members of the congregation,
including several children, to surround him as he read from the
historic Torah; In August, Kehilat Shanghai member Jeanine Buzali
traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to accept the Torah donation from
Reform congregation Associação Religiosa Israelita (ARI). Kehilat
Shanghai’s president Arie Schreier then carried the torah around the
room, weaving his way through the crowd.
“We had no idea we would be here for the giving of the first Torah
which was very emotional for us,” said Karin Batterton, who was
vacationing in Shanghai from Baltimore with her daughter and grandson.
“We felt a real kinship and we were so glad to see that there was a
community developing in an area of the world that we had no clue
16-year-old Shanghai resident Vincent Wilmet said, “It is a very
emotional day for me to celebrate the Jewish New Year with Kehilat at
Ohel Moishe, as it is where I did my bar mitzvah three years ago.
Receiving a new torah for my community here marks history for the Jews
in Shanghai but has a very special resonance for me.”
The Torah has now served congregations spanning three continents. It
was smuggled out of Germany in 1939 by Siegfried Moses, a member of
Berlin’s Wisenstrasse Synagogue. Moses had been granted a visa to
Brazil, so he agreed to carry the Torah with him, taking on a great
risk as there were severe luggage restrictions in place for immigrants
from Germany, according to Ricardo Gorodovits, President of ARI.
“It was one of our first Sefarim used extensively in all our
ceremonies from 1942 till recently,” Gorodovits wrote in an email. The
community that attends ARI was founded by German immigrants. Today it
consists of 900 families, making it the largest congregation in Rio de
When Union for Progressive Judaism vice president Rabbi Joel
Oseran—who led Kehilat Shanghai’s first High Holiday services five
years ago—suggested to ARI that they donate one of their torahs to a
congregation in need elsewhere in the world, they chose Shanghai. The
Torah donation was a way of honoring one of ARI’s founders, Josef
Aronsohn, whom along with his father, was a German refugee in 1940s
Shanghai before finding his way to Rio.
“Aronsohn trained thousand of ARI kids in their Bnei Mitzvah,
including Ricardo [Gorodovits] and myself,” said Raul Gottlieb, an ARI
board member. He added: “We have more Sefarim than we need for our
daily use and it is a pity to keep them unused.”
For Buzali, bringing the torah from Rio to Shanghai marks an important
step in Kehilat Shanghai’s growth as a congregation. “I think this
means we now have a responsibility to have a continued presence here,”
she said. “We need to always have a community around this Torah to
support it and make sure that it is used. I think we can do it.”
13th 2015, a few hundred people from all over the world gathered in Rio’s largest and oldest synagogue, the Grande Templo Israelita, to kick-off the World Union for Progressive
Judaism’s (WUPJ) biannual
conference, and to witness the gifting of a Torah from one local community to another,distant one.
I had arrived in Rio less than a day earlier, and sat through the beautiful ceremony in a slight daze. Towards the end, I went on the stage along with the president, rabbi and head of religious affairs of the Associacao Religiosa Israelita (ARI), Rio’s progressive and vibrant Jewish community, to receive the Torah on behalf of Kehilat Shanghai.
As I stood on the stage and heard the story and significance of KS’s new Torah, I realized that not only was this gift a perfect symbol of Jewish solidarity, of kol Israel arevimze le ze, but that the Torah is also a powerful legacy of Shanghai’s Jewish history. The Torah was brought to Rio from Germany via Shanghai by Chazan Joseph Aronsohn, who arrived in Rio’s budding Jewish community in 1949. In the seven decades that followed, ARI grew from a handful of immigrants to the thriving 900-family congregation that it is today.
Then, in a synagogue on a continent on the other side of the world, only a few days before we celebrate Shavuot, when the Jewish people received the Torah, with the solidarity and simcha of hundreds of strangers, Shanghai received its new Torah. It was an exemplification of Jewish values in action; it felt like history was being written. We all witnessed a moment in which one Jewish community supported another without being bound by language, nationality, or the expectation of getting something in return.
In the moments and days that followed, I got the opportunity to talk about our community with many other Jews, mostly rabbis and individuals, who are active in helping their communities thrive. I also learned about others’ communities: their makeup, challenges, conflicts, and joys. We all know that our community here in Shanghai is unique in many ways, and some of our challenges certainly are not faced by others, such as the ever-present challenges of transient expat life, or the lack of certain populations (teens, older adults). Yet ultimately, we are not that different from every other small, relatively budding Jewish community. Like many other groups around the world, we are working hard to engage people, build sustainable institutions, and respond to Jewish needs.
I realized that, in order to give this Torah a real home, in order to surround it with a real community, there is much work to do – but it is doable work, work that will ultimately turn us into something more than a small, struggling community. As Rabbi Tarfon said,
לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא את/ה בן/בת חורין להבטל ממנה."”
"You are not duty-bound to finish the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
So I’d like to invite you to come and help build our community. Join the Kehillat Shanghai board. See if the Jewish Center needs a Hebrew School teacher for next year. Work with Moishe House on a project that excites you. Maybe it’s helping animals, or Jewish education, or creating a space for people to connect. Just as long as you're doing something to strengthen our community and Jewish life in Shanghai. Every step, every action, will add to the long road that is building our community, which in turn helps turn Shanghai Jewish life into something stronger, pluralistic, with religious, intellectual and tikkun olam options. We have received a wonderful gift from our friends in Rio: a beautiful, historical Torah, and with it, an opportunity to make our community stronger.
Over summer our hearts and minds were completely taken by the tragic events that have occurred in Israel.
The Jewish residence in Shanghai felt the need to share and support the aftermath of these tragic events from afar. A few members of the Jewish Community in Shanghai came up with a new initiative to support a particular family in Israel that paid their ultimate price in these tragic events, the Baynsain family.
The Baynsain family came to Israel from Ethiopia. They live in Netivot- a small town in the south of Israel. Danny Baynsain who worked for the IDF for more than 20 years as a tracker in the border with Gaza was murdered during the last operation.
A board of 3 people was set to handle the donations; Mr. Dvir Bar-Gal, Mrs. Hadas Haham and Mr. Dan Krassenstein. Donations were offered by many people, ranging between 500 Yuan to 2150USD. A total of 60,000 Shekels [15,500USD] were collected and 100% of the money was transferred to the family.
It was the first time that members of the emerging Jewish communities in Shanghai made a mutual effort to raise funds to support a mission of charity in Israel. A surprise donation was also made by the 'Jews of Kaifeng'. We believe that this is the first time in History a donation was made by the Jewish community in Kaifeng for a cause in Israel.
In December 9th 2014, SJC president Mr. Maurice Ohana along with Mr. Dvir Bar-Gal and Mr. Uzi Cohen (Our connection to the family) delivered the funds to the family. 4 separate saving accounts were open In "Bank Leumi" for each of the 4 kids of the Baynsain family. Each account at the sum of 15,000 shekels. According to current tuition fees in Israel the sum donated to each of the kids shall cover a year of study in university.
We would like to thank everyone who participated and contributed to this important cause! What a great Mitzvah!