During our year's sojourn in China, we (my husband, daughter, Michael, a young Princeton graduate who majored in Chinese and I) went to Keifeng in search of Jews. They were not easy to find. The word Jew brought on a blank stare. Finally, we were directed to the street of the"people who do not eat pork, i.e., Muslims and Jews. There, we found only one"professional" Jew, an old man in a wheelchair. He had a Bazalel Menorah. His son was already in Los Angeles studying to be a rabbi.
Clearly, things have changed since as this article geared to Chinese readership, demonstrates. Chinese Jews are relearning the Jewish tradition and even beginning to make Aliya to Israel. BUT, there is a problem:
According to Zhang Qianhong, the head of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Henan University, in addition to the Jin’s [who already emigrated] there were the Zhang’s and the Li’s who had wanted to immigrate to Israel in the 1990s. However, only the three members of the Jin family were successful; they moved to Finland and their uncle Jin Guanzhong remained in Kaifeng.
Zhang Xingwang expressed his disappointment that the Kaifeng descendents cannot immigrate to Israel legally: “We would like to go to see Jerusalem, too.” He explained that intermarriage between Jews [in Kaifeng] and Han Chinese was quite common. The descendents of the Kaifeng Jews followed the patrilineal descent in China, and therefore could not immigrate because in Israel the matrilineal descent is followed. “Had the Kaifeng community followed the matrilineal descent, then they would have not encountered any problems. The Jewish community in Spain had a 300 year-old history; they also celebrated Passover, but were not even aware that they were Jews. Only after scholars realized that they were of matrilineal descent, they could immigrate. Jewish blood cannot be forgotten.”
Zhang Xingwang explained the value of the Jewish presence in China: “The Kaifeng Jewish community has an impact on the world. They often receive Jews from foreign countries and from Israel. The Israelis consider the Jews of Kaifeng especially important, because it serves a testimony to the friendship between China and Israel. We are saying that the Chinese people are good toward the Jews; they do not discriminate against the Jews. Living circumstances in Kaifeng are favorable, and the Jews can survive and flourish for another thousand years.” In conclusion, he said, “it is not important whether or not the government recognizes us as Jews, nor is it important that the census cannot be changed, what is important is that we feel that we are Jews in our hearts. Neither this nor the next generation will forget that we are Jews.”