Shanghai Synagogues


In 1991 we visited these sites with an official government guide.

Shanghai Restores Historic Synagogue
Friday February 9, 2007 1:46 PM
Associated Press Writer

SHANGHAI, China (AP) - Shanghai has started restoration work on one of its two remaining synagogues as part of China's effort to revive Jewish heritage in a city that provided refuge to tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.

In another sign of the new interest, a rabbi ministering to the city's Jewish community said Thursday he believes officials will eventually turn over the other synagogue for regular worship services.

The restoration of the Ohel Moishe synagogue, now a Jewish history museum, is due to take five months. The budget hasn't been revealed, although reports said the government has already spent $1.3 million on fixing up the surrounding area and promoting it as a tourist site.

``Shanghai is a great memory for the Jewish people and it's so much better to have this history in the shape of a building than to simply read about it in a book,'' said Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, who moved to Shanghai in 1998. He is a representative of the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, an Orthodox Jewish organization based in New York.

Efforts to salvage Shanghai's Jewish history have been driven by both domestic and overseas scholarly interest, as well as by the growing numbers of Jewish expatriates in the booming city.

That trend in turn has been embraced by city leaders, who are eager to cast Shanghai as cosmopolitan and welcoming to foreigners.

China's largest city with a population of 20 million, including more than 100,000 foreigners, Shanghai is also a major industrial and commercial center, home to China's largest stock exchange and other financial markets.

Before World War II, the city boasted a large and influential Jewish community with its own schools, newspapers and at least seven synagogues. Most Jews left after World War II and their synagogues were turned to secular uses or torn down.

After several decades of dormancy, the community is growing again, with about 2,000 Jewish foreign residents in the city. Most worship in private homes due to a lack of access to synagogues. China's communist government, which strictly controls religious activities, does not list Judaism among its five officially recognized religions.

Work began last month on Ohel Moishe, which housed offices and a bookshop before it was converted into a museum of Jewish history in 1996. The project aims to expand its exhibits and restore the brick collonaded building to its original appearance, removing added structures and repainting its white masonry.

While Ohel Moishe will remain a museum, city officials appear to be moving toward allowing regular services at Shanghai's other surviving synagogue, the Ohel Rachel, Greenberg said. Its current owners, the city education bureau, now open it for Jewish services only a few times a year.

``The government understands and I'm sure, hopefully sooner than later, that it will allow it to be used for its original purpose,'' Greenberg said.

Shanghai's Jewish community got its start when the city, one of the world's great seaports, was opened to foreign trade in 1842. Concessions were granted to Britain, the United States and France, leaving the city carved up between Western powers.

The Jewish community, whose leading members were Iraqi immigrants and their descendants, was thriving by the time Jews fleeing the Nazis began arriving a century later. Typical of its success was the real estate tycoon Jacob Elias Sassoon, who built the grander, neoclassical Ohel Rachel in 1920.

Constructed in 1928 by Russian immigrants, Ohel Moishe was the center of a less wealthy but equally cosmopolitan community in the Tilanqiao neighborhood north of the center. The area became even more heavily Jewish during World War II when Shanghai's Japanese overlords, under pressure from their German allies, forced German and Austrian Jews to live there exclusively.

About 30,000 European Jews sought refuge in Shanghai from the Nazi genocide.

The city was restored to China at the end of the war, with Western powers renouncing their claims.

Along with synagogues, Shanghai also boasts scores of Protestant and Catholic churches, most of which were closed for decades after the 1949 communist takeover but have since been reopened. However, while missionaries converted millions of Chinese to Christianity, the Jewish community was almost exclusively foreign.

Officially China is atheistic. Christians, Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims are allowed to worship but only in churches, temples and mosques run by state-monitored groups. Christians who attend underground churches - and most do in China - are often jailed and harassed.

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