Purim in Kaifeng

EXCITING KAIFENG REPORT BARNABY YEH

Following are excerpts from Barneby’s enthusiastic report. He also included wonderful pictures that I don’t know how to incorporate. For more information or to see the photos, please contact him directly at barnaby.yeh@gmail.com

PURIM

After a period in Taiwan visiting family for Chinese New Year, I have returned to Kaifeng to serve the community for Purim. After a busy week, I am finally able to pull together the time and strength for an update.
Most importantly, I herald amazing news.
My work began immediately upon arrival in Kaifeng, preparing for Purim celebrations. I bought a Megillat Esther in Baltimore expressly for this purpose, and I practiced night and day in the month leading up to Purim.

Meanwhile, I was rooming with David Liu, whose plan is to collaborate with Kaifeng Jews and the government of Kaifeng City to create Jewish institutions, from tourism and economics to cultural preservation. Most importantly, he aims to set up the Jewish community center that all of us have been speaking of. We will, with the help of God, put the primary focus on learning Lishmah, and a secondary focus on providing a home for every Jewish visitor. In addition, he and his colleagues aim to make preservation efforts at the old synagogue site, with the hopes of making it into a Jewish museum. With his means and passion, I have renewed faith in the Jewish renaissance of Kaifeng.

And with the arrival of the Purim celebration, my hopes were further confirmed. A couple of us had a brief Mincha prayer for the Fast of Esther, and already I could see a passion to learn. When nightfall arrived, we did the Maariv service followed by Megillah reading – in my special Henan opera-flavored Iraqi taamim. As well, I introduced them to the mitzvot of Mishloach Manot and Matanot laEvyonim. (We raised RMB 600 to distribute amidst the needy members of the community, including Shi Lei’s father who is currently struggling with heart disease – we wish him a refua sheleima.) The festive meal that followed was filled with not only alcohol, but friendship, camaraderie, and ruach (“spirit”, if you will!). Blessings were exchanged, and with the aid of David Liu’s exuberant optimism, we stated a renewed interest to learn Torah as hard as ever, and to return. (“Return” was used in a dual sense here, implying both return to God and Torah as well as return to the land of Israel.) As Purim continued (into the second day – yes, Kaifeng historically celebrated two days of Purim), the events were a lot less stated, but the spirit to learn was no less strong. We did a study of Megillat Esther in Chinese over the Purim Seudah, and I found myself floored by how captivated they were by the Biblical narrative.

A FUNERAL.

Sadly, not all is joyous, and on Sunday, I was called to the mitzvah of Levayat Meitim. … Although her funeral was not as speedy as a Jewish one should be, she was at the very least interred in the earth as customary for Jewish tradition. I had the honor of placing dirt over her final resting place, also in accordance with Jewish tradition. She was survived by over a HUNDRED descendants, who came from all over the country to her home in Lankao, less than an hour east of Kaifeng. As we celebrated her life over the consolatory meal, I did my duty to inform her descendants of their illustrious heritage. It struck me how Semitic some of them looked. One of them would absolutely positively be greeted in Hebrew if he landed on the streets of Tel Aviv!

As an added bonus, I was given a genealogy of the family, as well as the opportunity to contact some of them. … I also learned from one of them that the descendants of Hangzhou’s Jewish community (which was much larger than Kaifeng’s during Ai Tian’s time) are still meeting annually. It would behoove me to visit these people (whom I have only heard of i passing), and it would certainly be a good excuse for me to visit the beautiful city of Hangzhou!

Most important from all my experiences this past week that I have found a bevy of Jewish descendants (some of them quite possibly halakhic Jews themselves), young and old, willing to learn more about their heritage.
That being said, it is certainly my hope that SINO JUDAIC INSTITUTE plays a part in this. Whether it is by funding, organizing activities, or simply promotion, this project would be served by all of us collaborating with our respective roles.

I hope you will join me in our efforts, which are already bearing fruit. Next on the agenda: Passover!