23 June 2013

The Jews of Harbin, China (you read that right)

Some three years ago or thereabouts, I was part of a small Maccabi UK party that went to Israel to make a film for the Maccabi movement world-wide. The idea was that, because so many of the people who led Maccabi sports teams as managers these days had not grown up in the Movement, it might help orient them to understand where the Movement they were helping to lead came from.

I went along as the group’s researcher: while they got to film around that part of Israel near the Maccabi World Union HQ at Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, I got to play in the archives of the MWU’s Pierre Gildesgame Museum. They got wet (it actually rained a couple of the days we were there), I got intellectual stimulation.

These memories are triggered by this article in The Times of Israel on the renovation of the two synagogues and a Jewish High School in Harbin, in north eastern China.

In turn, this was because, to my utter astonishment, among the documents in the archives of the Museum was a record of this Jewish community way back in the early decades of the 20th Century, a community that contained a Maccabi club. My astonishment was not that there was a Maccabi there, but that there had been a Jewish community there. The existence of Maccabi nearly always came with the existence of a Jewish community; that, as they say, in another story (of Maccabi, I mean).

In its day, Harbin had been known, apparently, as ‘the “Moscow of the East.”’ As such, it was home to 23,000 Jews, who had, presumably, originated in Russia - hardly a difficult conclusion to reach, given that it was Russians who had founded the place. Now it is home to just one Jew, Dan Ben-Canaan, a professor of research and writing methodology at Heilongjiang University, School of Western Studies who relocated there in 2002. He is reported as being very pleased that the city government is restoring these monuments to the former Jewish life in China.

Oh, and we made our film (including archive material I had found in the archives that we were given permission to use), and it’s been made available for Maccabi world-wide to use, as made or as adapted by them.

By Brian Goldfarb.  


SnoopyTheGoon said...

No need to post them. What of the Ethiopian Jews, then? Not to mention the legions of converts from the very beginning? I take it you are a the-jews-are-a-race man?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Sorry, I didn't read your comment before posting. But there might be others out there, fans of Sand, who need some proper evidence.