Preserving the Shanghai Jewish Experience

The Washington Post reports:

Prodded by Chinese and foreigners with a personal or historical interest in the story of the Shanghai ghetto, the city government has for the first time begun to recognize the cultural and tourist value of the historic neighborhood. It is set in the low-rent Hongkou district, a few hundred yards from the Huangpu River and the prestigious towers of the Bund, the west bank of the river traditionally renowned as a center of finance and culture.

According to Chinese and foreign activists, municipal authorities who long ignored their city’s Jewish legacy have accepted several proposals to save at least some historic buildings from the developers who are eager to transform Hongkou into another Shanghai boom scene. If all goes well as city officials make their final decisions in the months ahead, the activists said, the outcome will be preservation of the heritage that Marmer arrived to appreciate.

Shanghai’s Jewish community was a much later development than the Kaifeng community which built a synagogue in 1163 C.E. (the shul was demolished in 1860). More information on Jews in China here and here

8 thoughts on “Preserving the Shanghai Jewish Experience

  1. Granted that my pro-aliyah attitude and somewhat pessimistic one with the diaspora, I still haven’t decided if it’s worth it to preserve ‘old buildings’ in the diaspora, and try to revive Jewish communities which don’t exist anymore or even a Jewish ‘experience’ (as has been posted recently about Poland) where Jews don’t even live anymore.
    Though I admit that I’m leaning to the moderate view that Jews should let bygones be bygones pack up and move to Israel. Forget about old buildings and come home.

  2. Josh: Everytime I visit a foreign country, I make a point to see what Jewish life is/was like there. Even in places where there is little to no more Jewish life (the ghetto in Ferrara,Italy comes to mind), there is so much to learn about the way Jews lived and the diverse cultures they developed during 2000 years of diaspora. That diversity is now being fed into a giant salad bowl (Israel) and I think it’s important to understand its roots. Being able to connect to our history is just as important as being able to look to the future.

  3. Ronen,
    at what cost? Whenever I’m overseas and have some free time, frankly, I also go see the ‘Jewish’ areas as well, but sometimes the opportunity cost of preserving (or even restoring) a synagogue when no community exists (Baghdad and Tripoli come to mind) seems a luxury that comes at the expense of progress, or even the present.

  4. I wish I had private and public appropriations figures for every single Jewish cause in the world, but I just don’t have the data to speak to that point.
    Nevertheless, preserving these communities is essential to our progress– if we cannot understand the joy and pain that those communities experienced over the years, and maintain a sense of sadness that Jewish life ended in some places, I don’t know that we can fully understand Israel’s place in our lives today and nor can we fully under. You might say that we shouldn’t be sad when Jewish life ends outside Israel, but with every end and every beginning there is a combination of sadness and hopefulness– I don’t think we can reject that.

  5. I’ll second Josh’s thoughts on the effectiveness of preserving communities that no longer exist. I don’t think all the Jews should move to Israel, we have too much to offer the rest of the world to pull be isolationists. Not to mention that tiny little piece in the Bible that says we’re supposed to be a light unto the nations. Studying and understanding them is great, and maybe even lays the ground work for the future emergence of a new community in the area. Look at Germany, more Jews from the Former Soviet Union move there now then Israel. Talk about building on the ashes…

  6. Why use the term C.E. instead of the conventional B.C.?
    If you object to calendars evolving from other religions, you’re going to have to change several days of the week and a few months as well. Instead, perhaps you should accept the historical fact and not try to revise it.

  7. Specifically because B.C. stands for Before Christ. Christ means “messiah,” and I don’t believe that the messiah has come. The calendar system is a widespread convention, and it makes the most sense to conform to the dates– so it’s not that I “object to calendars evolving from other religions,” but that I don’t believe Jesus was the messiah.

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