China’s ancient Jewish community returning to roots to celebrate Passover

A model of a synagogue in Kaifeng, China. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

( China’s ancient Jewish community in Kaifeng is set to celebrate a traditional Passover seder for what may be the first time in centuries.

The seder is being sponsored by Shavei Israel, an Israeli organization that helps “Lost Tribes” and other forgotten Jewish communities return to their roots. The seder will be conducted by Tzuri Shi, a Kaifeng Jew who formally converted and immigrated to Israel a few years ago.

“We are proud and excited to organize this historic event,” Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund stated.

“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people, and it is very moving to see the remnants of this community returning to their Jewish roots as they prepare for Passover,” he added.

Persian or Iraqi Jewish traders first arrived in Kaifeng, one of China’s imperial capitals, during the Middle Ages. At its height, the Jewish community there likely numbered around 5,000 people with rabbis, synagogues, and other communal institutions.

But assimilation and conversion took its toll on the community and by the mid-19th century, there was little left. Today, about 500-1,000 identifiable descendants of this community exist, with a number of them seeking to reconnect with their Jewish roots.

Posted on April 8, 2014 .