PROPHECY COMING ALIVE: Chinese Kaifeng Jews Seek New Lives in Israel
TEL AVIV, Israel — Yue Ting finally went “home” to Israel this week.
She had been looking forward to the day for years — where she comes from there are no synagogues or rabbis.
“Our ancestors are Jews … I have to be here,” said Yue, a 25-year-old primary school teacher who intends to become an Israeli citizen along with four other women from her hometown of Kaifeng in Henan province.
Growing up in China, Yue Ting always thought she was Jewish but she never understood quite what that meant.
“As a child my parents and people around me always called me ‘Jewish girl,'” Yue told NBC News. “I didn’t understand the meaning of Jewish at that time.”
Yue and the four other women traveling with her are among some 1,000 traceable descendants of the Jewish community in Kaifeng, once the imperial capital of the Chinese Song dynasty. The Kaifeng’s Jewish population was established by travelling merchants from the Middle East and Persia as early as the 7th century and once numbered as many as 5,000.
Since their last synagogue was destroyed by floods more than two centuries ago and their rabbinical tradition died out, little remains of the city’s Jewish roots.
“We began to lose our Jewish tradition,” said Yue, whose family kept kosher growing up, but did not know how to pray or read in Hebrew.
For many Jewish descendants in Kaifeng, their heritage is little more than family folklore.
“When I was a little girl my father and my grandfather taught me we are Jews,” said Li Yuan, 26, who is also making the journey with Yue Ting.
Assimilation, intermarriage and Communist rule “almost succeeded” in eradicating the last traces of Judaism in Kaifeng, according to Michael Freund, founder of Shavei Israel, an organization that helps “lost” or “hidden” Jews emigrate to Israel.
Freund has helped 19 Kaifeng Jews
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