Symposium Abstracts and Invited Speakers’ Bios

Moshe Bernstein (U. of Western Australia, Australia)
“Authenticity Claims and Authentication Processes: The Kaifeng Jews’ Revival of an Unrecognized Identity”

In recent years the modern-day descendants of Kaifeng’s first Jewish settlers have engaged in a process of cultural revival. Triggered by contacts with foreign groups and individuals, both Jewish and Christian, this revitalization includes the celebration of Shabbat and festivals; participation in communal prayers; study of Jewish texts; acquisition of Hebrew language skills; and aliyah (immigration to Israel) of several of the group’s younger members. The subjective claims of the contemporary Kaifeng Jews to authenticity derive from cultural factors of ancestral veneration, clan lineage, historical memory and preservation of particular customs. These stand in acute juxtaposition to external processes of authentication, in which Kaifeng Jewish identity is regularly repudiated. Neither Israel’s Law of Return nor the canon of Jewish law employed by its Chief Rabbinate recognize the Jewishness of Kaifeng’s descendants. These two asymmetric standards have generated considerable political controversy, both in Israel and the Diaspora, not only on the criteria demarcating Jewish identity but also on their uneven application. Furthermore, China’s official classification of minorities and a 1953 internal document from the Party leadership rejecting Sino-Judaic ethnicity have perpetuated a government policy of non-recognition, one which has often contradicted China’s economic and political interests, locally and nationally.

Moshe Yehuda Bernstein is a native of Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1989 he received a First-Certificate in Rabbinic Studies from the Eeyun Ha-Talmud Institute in Monsey NY, while concurrently studying at the Klausenburg Rabbinical Academy in Safed, Israel. Arriving in Australia in 1993, for over a decade he served as Director of Jewish Studies for day schools in both Sydney and Perth. In 2008 he embarked on a BA in Asian Languages at Curtin University with a semester of international exchange at Beijing Language and Culture University. His subsequent Honours dissertation in Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia explored the Chinese contextualization of the Kaifeng Jews’ authenticity claims. Currently in its final year, his doctoral thesis examines the effects of globalization and translation in the contemporary transmission of Sino- Judaic cultural identity in Kaifeng. Since coming to Australia, Moshe has lectured extensively on an array of topics at schools, universities and conferences both locally and abroad. His articles have been published in the SJI triannual Points East and the Chinese journal, China Studies (中国研究). He has also contributed a chapter to the anthology, The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, set for publication in late 2015.

Gao Bei (University of North Carolina Wilmington)
“China, Japan and the Flight of European Jewish Refugees to Shanghai during World War II”

Between 1938 and 1941, nearly 20,000 European Jews fled to Shanghai, and the great majority survived the war. When the Jewish refugees arrived in the city, China and Japan were at war, and the Chinese Nationalist government and the Japanese occupation authorities thought very carefully about them. Both devised detailed plans to use the refugees to win international financial and political support in their war against each other. The story of the Shanghai Jews underscores that the Holocaust had complicated repercussions that extended far beyond Europe. It further illuminates how the “Jewish issue” complicated the relationships among China, Japan, Germany, and the United States before and during World War Two.
Gao Bei was born and raised in Beijing and earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Kitakyushu in Japan. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia and is currently Assistant Professor of History and International Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Shanghai Sanctuary: Chinese and Japanese Policy toward European Jewish Refugees during WWII (Oxford University Press, 2013) is her first book.

Jonathan Goldstein (University of West Georgia)
“Between Russia, China, and Israel: The Transnational Identity of the Jews of Harbin, China, 1899-2015, with Special Reference to the Ehud Olmert Family”

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the Russian Jews of Harbin, China, developed a transnational identity that mixed cultural, linguistic, political, and religious elements. Kharbintsy, as these Jews prefer to call themselves, migrated mainly to Israel, but also to Australia, the USA, the USSR, and elsewhere from the 1930s through the 1950s. They retained elements of their Harbin identity at new places of residence. Beginning in the mid-1990s, groups of Kharbintsy celebrated their identity in return trips organized by their Tel Aviv-based Landesmannschaft, or communal organization, the Igud Yotzei Sin, which roughly translates as “the Association of Immigrants from China” They were led by the late Teddy Kaufman, son of Dr. Abram Kaufman, onetime head of Harbin’s Jewish Spiritual Community.

Among the best-known Kharbintsy to celebrate their transnational identity and make return pilgrimages are members of the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. I will examine the nature and scale of the Harbin Jewish community and the history of the Olmert family using four-part analytical framework developed by historians Sarah Pearce, Tony Kushner, and Milton Shain. I will first focus on “leavings,” or what motivated Jews to abandon their ancestral homelands; second, “passages,” or how the vicissitudes of travel to relatively unknown destinations shaped Jewish consciousness, thought and behavior; third, “identity,” the new cultural and intellectual characteristics that Jews adopted at their new point of residence; and fourth, “return,” or how Jews remembered and utilized their ties to their ancestral homelands as part of a process of creating new aspects of identity.

Goldstein_1999_book_coveIJonathan Goldstein (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D., in East Asian History from the University of Pennsylvania) has been a Research Associate of Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies since 1985 and a Professor of East Asian History at the University of West Georgia since 1981. His books include Stephen Girard’s Trade with China (2011), The Jews of China (2 vols, 1999 and 2000), China and Israel (1999; updated Chinese edition 2006; updated Hebrew edition forthcoming 2014), America Views China (1991), Georgia’s East Asian Connection (1982, 2nd. ed. 1990), and Philadelphia and the China Trade (1978).

Rabbi Anson Laytner (Seattle University)
“Kol Yisrael Haverim: The Impact of External Jewish Contact with the Kaifeng Jews in the 20th and 21st Centuries”

Beginning in the mid-19th century, once Protestant missionaries began to report on the perilous state of the Jewish community in Kaifeng, American and European Jews attempted to connect with the Kaifeng Jews in order to help them return to their Jewish heritage. Success, such as it was, only came once direct contact was made between the mostly Mizrahi Jews residing in Shanghai and Kaifeng community representatives. Although this initial rescue effort ended in failure, Western Jewish visitors continued to visit Kaifeng sporadically until the political turmoil of the Mao Zedong era made this impossible. Once China began to open up in the 1980s, these visits resumed and eventually, with the involvement of several Jewish organizations, some of the Kaifeng Jewish descendants have made aliyah to Israel while many more are actively engaged in living a Chinese-Jewish lifestyle in Kaifeng. This paper/presentation will trace the history of these contacts and assess the impact that Western Jewish visitors have had on the survival of the Kaifeng Jews.

Laytner_1977-book-coverAuthor and interfaith expert Rabbi Anson Laytner is Program Manager of Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry’s Interreligious Initiative. As a volunteer, he is past president of the Sino-Judaic Institute, edits its journal, Points East, and manages its website, www.sino-judaic.org. Laytner is the author of Arguing with God (Jason Aronson, 1998), co-author of The Animals’ Lawsuit Against Humanity (Fons Vitae, 2005), and over sixty articles on subjects ranging from Jewish theology to the Arab-Israel conflict to the Chinese Jews. Rabbi Laytner holds a BA, summa cum laude, from York University in Toronto and a Masters degree in Not-for-Profit Leadership from Seattle University. He has a Masters degree in Hebrew Letters and rabbinic ordination, along with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity, from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

Noam Urbach (Bar-Ilan University, Israel)
“Sino-Christo-Judaica: The Christian Factor in the History of Kaifeng Jewry”

When probing the history of Kaifeng Jews, at least since the discovery of their existence by the West in early 17th century, the role of Christianity – of its various denominations – cannot be overlooked. In this talk I will sketch the history of Christian agency, involvement and influence on Kaifeng Jewry beginning with the earliest discovery made by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci, up until contemporary Christian and Messianic advocacy in support of immigration (Aliyah) of Jewish descendants from Kaifeng to Israel. Every type of Christian player had its own motivation, ideology and even theology, sometimes even contradictory. New research has revealed yet more complex involvement by previously unknown agents, such as a Chicago based Christian Zionist fund in early 20th century. As a result, I argue that Kaifeng Jewry should be viewed as a Christian phenomenon as much, or perhaps even more, than as a Jewish one.

An Israeli, Noam has spent over three years in China, with his wife and children. Besides studying Chinese (of course), he conducted and published (Peter Lang, 2008) research on the recent circumstances of Kaifeng Jewish descendants. This also became the theme of his documentary project in the making Kaifeng-Jerusalem. His latest research was on the politics of religion in contemporary China, and more specifically, on-unrecognized foreign religions in China.

Noam also contributed to the development of Jewish Studies in China, by teaching Hebrew and Talmud at the pioneering Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University for two years (2005-2007), where he also elected courses on Chinese religion and politics.

To feed his five children, Noam currently teaches courses in Chinese language, religion and politics at the Asian Studies Program at Bar-Ilan University.

Noam holds an M.A. (cum laude) in Asian Studies from the Hebrew University and a B.Sc. in Physics and Computer Science from Bar-Ilan University. He is currently founding Shmooz – a telecommunications startup in Tel-aviv.

Ya’nan Bai 白亞男 (Independent scholar) & Litong Chen 陳利砼 (The Ohio State University)
“Nineteenth Century Mandarin in the Old Testament: A Study of the Translation of Biblical Names”

The Chinese Union Version is the most widely used translation of the Bible in the Chinese contemporary Chinese Christian community. It was translated based on the vernacular Mandarin Chinese spoken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This paper studies people’s names that occur in the Old Testament. Since most of the names underwent phonetic translation, this study contributes to our understanding of some phonological features of the vernacular Mandarin Chinese spoken a hundred years ago. There are several major findings. First, Mandarin Chinese back then had a lower degree of palatalization than today. Second, although Mandarin Chinese had lost the -m, -p, -t, and -k codas, some cases still show that characters which was once pronounced with these codas are chosen in order to match the pronunciation of the names in English. This may result from the translators’ preference and deliberate choice of a more conservative and thus more elegant way of translation. Third, the translation of names is basically gender-neutral.

Kaiqi Hua (University of California Merced)
“Sketch of Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln’s Adventure in China (1922-1943)“

Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln (1879-1943), born to an orthodox Jewish family in Hungry, was an unique figure in the 20th century. Prior to his life in China, he was an international confidence man, Lutheran missionary, Anglican priest, triple spy, oil broker, British parliament member, criminal, and enemy of Britain. This paper demonstrates the most interesting yet mystical years of his life in China, where he converted to Buddhism and became an abbot named “Venerable Zhao Kong” of his own sect in Shanghai. As the first Western monk in China, Trebitsch spent his last two decades traveling and preaching for fortunes and international fame. From sources in both Western languages and Chinese, we can depict a picture of this Jewish Buddhist evangelist’s role in the politics and conflicts before and after the World War II. Trebitsch endlessly sought of expanding his personal networks and influence among different national entities. He also secured funds from wealthy Jewish families in Shanghai, though his dream of establishing Buddhist monasteries in France and Madeira, and an oriental Tel-Aviv all failed. The magic or tragic life of Trebitsch and his will of overcoming imperialism by Buddhism, reflects the history of colonial China in the struggle of self-determination.

Lampe, David, and Laszlo Szenasi. The Self-Made Villain: A Biography of I.T. Trebitsch Lincoln. Cassell, 1961.

Wasserstein, Bernard. The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln. Yale University Press, 1988.

Wasserstein, Bernard. “Lincoln, Ignatius Timotheus Trebitsch (1879–1943),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ju-Zan 巨赞, “Yang heshang Zhao-Kong” 洋和尚照空, in Wenshi ziliao xuanji 文史资料选辑, No. 79, ed. Quanguo Zhengxie wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui 全国政协文史资料研究委员会, 1982, pp. 165–177.