Who are better business people, Jews or Chinese

China

Shabbat in Guangzhou

by Sue Fishkoff

It's Friday evening in Guangzhou - the chaotic metropolis of 10 million people in China. As the sun sets over busy Huan Shi Street, a group of young men gathers for the Shabbat service, which takes place in a synagogue above a photo shop. About 40 men take part in the prayer. Then they gather with their wives and children in the dining room for a kosher dinner consisting of chicken, fresh challot and local vegetables. Manischewitz wine goes with the traditional stew.
Welcome to Chabad in Guangzhou, one of the newest outposts of Judaism in China. "Before I came here, the Jews met in the Starbucks café," says Rabbi Eliyahu Rozenberg. Today Jews go to the synagogue. "I know about 200 Jews live permanently in Guangzhou." The rabbi, who comes from Israel, was sent to Guangzhou with his wife and daughter less than a year ago to lead the Chabad Synagogue.
The 25 year old feels up to the task: He was already a Chabad emissary in Russia, Belarus and Chile. The fourth largest metropolis in China is the capital of the affluent province of Guangzhou, which accounts for twelve percent of the country's economic output. In China, the booming economy is attracting massive numbers of foreign investors, many of them Jews, who are looking for spiritual fulfillment in addition to material success.
They include the 35-year-old French businessman Patrick Dauvillaire. He lives with his wife Gu Qin and two daughters in an apartment building in Guangzhou. For Chaim Daniel Buxbaum, a lawyer from New York who has lived in Asia since 1963, this borders on a miracle. "I've been living in Guangzhou longer than any other Jew here," says the 72-year-old. "Although there was no organized religious life here, more and more Jewish business people came to Mass, and we arranged minyanim so that they could pray together." This function is now taken over by the Chabad Center.
The first Lubavitch rabbi in China was Meir Ashkenazi. Between 1926 and 1949 he was the spiritual leader of the Ohel Moshe community in Shanghai. Before and during World War II, Ashkenazi strove to help the thousands of European Jews.
Today around 10,000 Jews live in China - not including the 5,000 Jewish residents of Hong Kong. Almost all of them are foreigners: Americans, Israelis, British and French. You work in a wide variety of professions. Thanks to a forecast that the gross domestic product will grow by ten percent in 2006 - and by eight percent annually for the next five years - more Jews are pouring into China every day.
"This is one of the most positive developments in the Jewish world," says Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, head of the Asian branch in Chabad. Seven Chabad houses are currently available to the Jewish community in China: two in Hong Kong and one each in Beijing, Shanghai, Pudong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
"At least 50,000 Jews visit Shanghai alone every year," says Rabbi Greenberg, director of the local Jewish center. Therefore they are determined to make the infrastructure of Judaism in China one dominated by Chabad. “We have found a balance between the claim not to make concessions on Jewish values ​​and tolerance of those who do anyway. But tolerance does not mean that we approve of mixed marriages. "
This has created problems for Dauvillaire, who regularly attends the Chabad service in Guangzhou. "Chabad does not allow our daughters to attend the Talmud Torah school because their mother is not Jewish," he complains. "If I want to convert, it's because I'm interested in religion," says Dauvillaire's wife, whose mother was a Buddhist and whose father was an atheist communist. “But they seal themselves off from outsiders. It's not fair. ”But even if Chabad wanted to, Gu Qin couldn't convert to Judaism because there is a law in China against proselytizing.
Rabbis are fighting for Judaism to be recognized as an official religion. Even if this would by no means mean that a rabbi could carry out the conversion of the Chinese spouse of a foreign Jew. But it would equate Judaism with Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. At the moment, however, the main problem is to find ways to make Judaism attractive within this money-driven society, to maintain and strengthen the community.

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