CPCL #19 • Shabbat Parshat Chayei Sara 5764, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This monthly feature is geared towards
encouraging Aliyah... AND encouraging veteran and new Olim to become more
involved in encouraging and easing the Aliyah of others.
Prof. Xu Xin described the conjecture surrounding the dates of arrival of the first Jews in China. The first documented proof is a 7th century letter written on paper (produced only in China) in Judeo-Persian. Later documents indicate that Jewish Persian merchants traveled the Silk Road to China for trade, introducing cotton-cloth
Settling on the Yellow River in Kaifeng, the observant Jewish community flourished for nearly a millennium. European Christians discovered the community in the 17th century. They described the Jews as abstaining from pork, observing synagogue practices and festivals, and following the laws of Moses. After generations off loods, missionaries, and a lack of rabbis, the Jews integrated into Chinese society and assimilated in the 1840's. Today, remnants of the community include a street in the Jewish quarter called the "Sect that Teaches the Scriptures".
What makes the story of the Kaifeng
community so compelling? Perhaps this minute Jewish Diaspora attracts
interest because of its survival for nearly a thousand years in isolation
from mainstream Jewish centers.
Sounds familiar? Except for the last point, these features are similar to those that describe the American Diaspora. The largest, most influential Diaspora in the world today generates much discussion on its history, culture and its future survival. The study of the tiny Kaifeng community, hidden away for hundreds of years in a most improbable location, shows us about the survival and disintegration of Jewish communities.
A major difference between the two
Diasporas concerns the centrality of Israel. For the Jews of Kaifeng, the
idea of a central place for Jews in the land of Israel was only in the stage
of prayers. For American Jews, Israel has been a concrete, feasible place to
channel those prayers into action.
Moshe Gruber of Merkaz Shapira came on Aliyah in 1996 from California. He recounts his attitude to the changes bought upon by his Aliyah as a young teen.
When I came to Israel, I had been learning Hebrew in school in America for seven years. This gave me the ability to communicate in Hebrew. But of vital importance, was the fact that I was confident that I could communicate with anyone. It was a very simple conviction. If there were words that I didn't know, it wasn't really important at all; it was clear to me that I could speak with anyone. Shortly after arriving, I went to the makolet to get cinnamon, without the word for cinnamon. And I was perfectly calm about the whole thing.
I was confident and comfortable with being who I was, realizing that this person would certainly succeed in the new situation he was in. I didn't erase who I was, or the foundation level framework of my life - quite the contrary: I very simply continued being precisely who I was. That includes being open to change, and even enjoying new things, like any young kid does. But not to the degree of becoming something brand new, or creating from the ground up, but rather assimilating new things into my existence at a simple comfortable rate.
Some stories on that point. I had always been a diligent student. So I continued. From the inscription written by my Rav in the Sefer he gave me at the end of my first semester in Israel: "Despite the difficulties with the language, nothing stood between you and success in your studies. Continue in the same way."
Another story on changing. During that first year, a friend took me one evening to the local shul. Three or four kids, from eight to tenth grades, including my friend, had a chavrusa every evening with a bachur from a big Yeshiva nearby.
They were learning Sanhedrin. I had learned Gemara in school before, but that was about all that was familiar. Every other part was new. Yet I stayed, becoming a fixed part of the group, and I'm still close with the bachur we learned with. Learning with them became an integral part of my life, for all its newness. I think the experience really changed who I became.
Today, I learn in a big Yeshiva in
Yerushalayim. HaShem tells us through the prophet Yishayahu that the state
to which Am Yisrael must bring the world is "For from Zion will go forth
Torah and the word of HaShem from Yerushalayim." In my Torah, my learn- ing,
I'm building that. I can really feel how the learning I do is a part of
Until the War of Independence, an Arab
village here named Suafir, is believed to be the site of biblical Shafir,
mentioned in connection with Sancheriv's invasion of Yehuda (Micha 1:11).
Thus the name "Merkaz Shapira" is also a play on words, based upon the
Merkaz Shapira is home to the Ohr Etzion educational complex, headed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman. The name "Ohr Etzion" commemorates the original Jewish communities of Gush Etzion. The institutions include high school and hesder yeshivas as well as Israel's only religious military dormitory (a high school which provides pre-military training and whose graduates enter officers training courses upon induction).
Achuzat Etrog is a relatively new
community of about 250 dati leumi families, located right next to Merkaz