Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iraqi-Jewish Shanghai synagogue hosts wedding

Last week Ohel Rahel, a synagogue built in Shanghai by its Iraqi-Jewish community in 1920, was the scene of the first wedding to be held there for 60 years, according to Haaretz (With thanks: Lily).

"A glass was smashed, and a cheer went up. After months of careful negotiations with the Chinese government, Shanghai's Jewish community celebrated a revival last month as a historic synagogue opened for its first wedding in about 60 years.

"Shanghai has special meaning for the global Jewish population after it took in tens of thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II. The city's Jewish community and the foreign community at large soon faded away, however, after the communists took over in 1949 and heavily restricted both business and culture. For decades, the practice of religion was discouraged, and places of worship were torn down or given secular uses, such as storage spaces for grain.

"But China's largest city is regaining its cosmopolitan reputation as the country continues its dramatic rise, and the Jewish community of foreigners now numbers more than 2,000.

"Maurice Ohana, the president of the current community, still knew, however, it would be hard to get access to the Ohel Rachel synagogue for his daughter's wedding. Judaism isn't one of officially atheist China's five recognized religions, because of the lack of native Jews, and the community worships quietly, in local apartments.

"Ohel Rachel, built in 1920 by an earlier Jewish community of businessmen with roots in Iraq and India, remains in the hands of Shanghai's education ministry. Once used as storage and now used from time to time as an auditorium, it was named one of the world's 100 most endangered sites by the World Monuments Fund in 2002 and 2004."

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