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Excerpted from: The Wall Street Journal

More than 40 years after Shanghai's vibrant Jewish community scattered across the globe; its most venerable temple is being revitalised. But neither Mr Toeg, who worshipped in the synagogue as a child, nor Mr Kaplan, one of the city's new Jewish residents knows whether Jews will ever be allowed to worship here.

Unrecognised Religion:

Though Shanghai owes much of its growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to Jewish immigrants, Judaism is no longer recognized as a religion in China, where spiritual matters are tightly controlled by the state, Shanghai's new Jewish community of executives and entrepreneurs even enlisted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ask the city's mayor for access to the synagogue on holy days, but there has been no clear answer so far. 'Even the mayor apparently doesn't have the authority,' shrugs Mr Toeg from beneath his black yarmulke.

So, after serving for decades as a Maoist lecture hall and city warehouse, the ivy-cloaked Greek-revival building, angled on its lot to face Jerusalem, is destined to be a tourist stop. And the city's new Jews will continue to hold Shabbat services in hotel rooms and each other's homes while the government continues to turn a blind eye.

In a small upstairs room where he and other orthodox Jews once gathered for daily prayers, Mr Toeg points to a spot on the hardwood floor. 'My father sat here,' he says, 'and I sat there beside him, every day for 10 years'.

That was half a century ago, when Ohel Rachel (or House of Rachel in Hebrew, after one of the four Jewish matriarchs, as well as the wife of the synagogue's founder) was the centre of spiritual life for wealthy Sephardic Jews like Mr Toeg's father. Their factories, banks and trading houses helped build Shanghai into the 'Paris of the East.' Then the Communists came, and Mr Toeg's family, along with scores of others, was asked to leave (and to leave everything behind).

Invited Back:

They sailed for Hong Kong and finally Tel Aviv, where Mr Toeg runs a synagogue and today works for the U.S. Embassy managing motorcades. He didn't expect ever to return until Mr Kaplan called in May, asking for help putting Ohel Rachel back the way Mr Toeg remembers it.

Jews left their mark on Shanghai more than any other city in the East. About a third of its grandest buildings - including Ohel Rachel - were erected by wealthy Iraqi Jewish businessmen, some of whom traded opium and then real estate here in the late 1800's. At one point, 40% of Shanghai's stock exchange members were Jewish, and the city boasted seven synagogues, four of which have since been torn down and one other that has been converted into an office building...

When President Clinton sent three U.S. religious leaders to China last year, Shanghai Mayor promised the Jewish representative, that the city would restore the synagogue and open it to the public as a historic site...


Other articles related to Shanghai :

Gathering of Shanghai Sephardic Community

S.F. Sephardi will share Shanghai Ties

Shanghai Jews as seen by Chinese



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