Shanghai rediscovering its pre-revolutionary heritage, just in time





THE doormen outside the headquarters of Shanghai’s Municipal Education Commission have a new colleague these days. On Friday evenings and Saturday mornings they are joined by a young Mandarin-speaking Israeli, who keeps an eye on comings and goings. The ivy-covered compound, built in the 1920s, is also the home of Ohel Rachel, one of Shanghai’s last surviving synagogues. This month, for the first time in almost 60 years, it reopened for regular Sabbath services.

That Ohel Rachel was reopened, even though Judaism is not one of China’s five officially recognised religions, is one of a number of signs that Shanghai may be coming to terms with its past. After the Communist revolution in 1949, much of the city’s history was swept under the carpet, and its grand old buildings put to new uses. Some of these buildings had been designated for protection in recent decades, but the heritage signs posted on them typically give little detail about their previous significance.

Ohel Rachel was neglected for decades. Even now, the 2,000-strong Jewish community has been promised regular access only until October, when the Shanghai World Expo ends. But Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, who led the campaign for its reopening, says that the city’s authorities have indicated unofficially that it will be hard to reverse the decision. He believes that Shanghai’s economic revival has made officials more confident in treating its complex history, and able “to use the past to benefit the future–even if the past was not so much to their liking.”...


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