by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer & Mary Swartz
We as readers, even as historians, too often assume that the Jewish experience unfolded only in the Middle East and Europe and North America. In this we are missing an entire page of Jewish history. And that is our loss.
What would be the headlines on that missing page? Jews in India; Jews in Japan; Jews in China. And what we would read on that page — on those many pages — is an almost unbelievable history. For example: Jews lived in India totally free of anti-semitism for more than 2,000 years. In Japan, thousands of Jews lived not only free of hostility but actually welcomed — and this during the perilous years leading up to WW II when no other country in the world would open its doors to them. And in China? That is the story of this book: the story of just one of the myriad Jewish families who lived for over a thousand years in security in China.
We in the West are blinded by the experiences, often not happy ones, of Jews in the West. The time has come that we look to the East. The time has come to write this missing page, to publish the memoirs and diaries and facts that tell of the experience of the Jewish people in the eastern world. In this book, Irene Chu has set out to do exactly that by portraying the experiences of her own family that began in Kaifeng, China. Kaifeng was the capital of China long before Beijing. And Kaifeng was where the Jews who came east on the Silk Road from Europe and what is now the Middle East first settled.
Ms. Chu has done extensive research on the very early history of the Jewish settlement in Kaifeng and, with authorial license, has woven into that history the story of her own family. After generations, her ancestors made the long trek from Kaifeng to Shanghai. And after yet more generations, emigrated from there to Toronto where she lives now, along with her family.
We applaud her contribution to spreading an understanding of the hitherto barely known history of the Jewish communities in the East and to writing a very readable entry on that missing page.