Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Harbin Jews 

Got a hold of Prof. Dan Ben-Canaan of the Sino-Israel Research and Study Center at Heilongjiang University here in Harbin today. He filled me in on some of the sites which remain from the years when the Harbin Jews were prominent in this community, particularly the old and new synagogues. I was very glad for the information, because neither of them is listed in my guidebook.

The Bolshevik Revolution forced many Russians into Manchuria after 1918. But the Harbin Jews were already largely settled here by then. They had come earlier, largely due to the pogroms at the end of the Nineteenth Century, as exemplified by the movie, Fiddler on the Roof. They built many commercial enterprises, and established a reputation as a prosperous, cultured people.

Click here for larger image.
This afternoon, I visited the historical museum in the new synagogue. The terms "new" and "old" are misleading. Both of the synagogues in Harbin are quite old. They were built about ten years apart. But, obviously, one of them is newer than the other. The old synagogue is now a youth hostel. It is a private youth hostel, so it is not listed on the youth hostel web site, which is why I didn't know about it. I am glad, now, because I really like the place where I am staying. The new synagogue houses a very impressive historical display, rivaling the one at Song Qingling's old place in Beijing, which up until now I have always said is the best in China.

All of the pictures have bilingual labels. And there are few gaps. Virtually the entire history is covered. Of course, you would want to fill in the details of events with your own study. The narration doesn't give you everything. But it really helps to give a feel for the kind of life they lived, and the wide ranging influence of the Harbin Jews.

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