«Jewish Observer»
November 2001
5762 Kislev

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Set Kaplan, a citizen of Shanghai, got tired of celebrating Holy Holidays in rented small rooms of the city hotel whereas the whole non-damaged synagogue, the oldest in the city, is empty.

34-year old Kaplan together with other parishioners from the local Jewish community began to struggle for restoring "Oel Rakhel". Not long ago all his efforts ended in success. The World Fund for preservation of monuments included the synagogue built in the 1920s in the supervisory list of 100 monuments vulnerable to destruction. "This is the only real synagogue left in multi-million China", - says Henry Eng, executive vice-president of the Fund. For almost 50 years the building was used by different government national and local agencies and became neglected.

34-year old Kaplan, who was born in New York, informed us that his community was planning fund-raising to restore the holy for Jews building.

When the synagogue "Oel Rakhel" was built under the Chinese sun, there were about 1700 Jews in Shanghai. The synagogue erected by Sir Yacob Elias Sassun, a Bagdad Jew living in Hong-Kong, was supposed to cover the community of 600 Jews from Bagdad living at that time in Shanghai. The facade synagogue was designed for 700 sitting places. There is a holy boat with 30 scrolls of the Torah. The synagogue is a small part of the huge complex, which once hosted a Jewish school, library, sport grounds and mikva.

Shanghai was the only city in the world to which no visa was needed. Thus, about 20 thousand Jews found refuge in it between 1938-1945.

The new government confiscated "Oel Rakhel" in 1952 having destroyed all decorations and the holy interior. During the Cultural Revolution the hunveibins broke even chandeliers.

When, during the visit of the first lady of the USA Hillary Clinton and state secretary Madlin Albright, they expressed the desire to sightsee the synagogue, the municipality of Shanghai made the synagogue vacant and even did some petty repairs.

"It is a real symbol of Jewish and American relations", - says Kaplan. - This is also a symbol of what Chinese people did for us in the past, having given shelter to refugees during the war."

This synagogue embodies the past. It represents the future. It should be restored.


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© 2001 Jewish Confederation of Ukraine - www.jewukr.org