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e title: Jews in Beijing le: The Mu Shoo Jews(you r: Manuela Zoninsein bio: Manuela is a Princeton-in-Asia Fe eek, the Engineering News-Record, and up to the 2008 Olympics. ut Quote 1: "It's almost as if we are thes s." ut Quote 2: In the mainstream mindset It seems broadly recognized that, after Buddha himself, Jewish s than 2% of Americans pull all the strin people most closely approximate of the perceptions border on “take over the world” conspiracytheories, especially within the finance sector, and end up incorrectly attributing successes and wealth to Jews simply because it is assumed that’s where Jews tend to excel. Apparently there are numerous books claiming the Rothschild family controls the U.S. Treasury; unbeknownst to me (or anyone else), J.P. Morgan and even the Roosevelts were Jewish. In the mainstream mindset of the Middle Kingdom, it would seem that the less than 2% of Americans who are Jews pull all the strings behind the machinations of the United States. This echoes Japan’s 1919 “Fugu Plan” which was motivated by the Russian-disseminated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A scheme named after the poisonous delicacy, the Fugu fish, Japanese sought to control the “venomous” Jews while enjoying the fruits of their supposed wealth and power. By attracting the highly valuable Jews into Manchuria, the Japanese believed they could keep “Zion’s” dangers at bay. The history of Chinese-Japanese struggles, most recently those of this century such as the Nanjing Massacre, might be a possible explanation for Chinese sympathy toward Jewish struggles, though few have written about that topic just yet. Many of the Jews living in Beijing understand the dark underbelly of these compliments, and try to convince Chinese that our successes are not the result of some inherent racial or ethnic quality. For example, when the stereotype is mentioned in conversation, the aforementioned Net entrepreneur will “explain to them that, actually, in any large enough population, intelligence (i.e. IQ) is likely to be normally distributed...” An argument that takes the steam out of genetic supremacy becomes more difficult in a nation that has historically relied on racial and ethnic essentialization to claim global ascendancy and racial superiority. It is not called the Middle

“enlightened” status. Kingdom for nothing. And its recent resurgence in geopolitical power and presence is often seen as the nation’s birthright, dating back to its ancient inception. Yet, that ancient inception serves as additional explanation for the appreciation of Jews witnessed in Beijing. The Chinese are proud of their 5000 (by some accounts 6000) years of history. At year 5768, the Jewish calendar might be the only one which surpasses it in length. By Chinese standards, that means wisdom and righteousness. Not one of the Jews I’ve spoken with has experienced antiSemitism. Mendelevich realizes “that [financial acumen] is a stereotype of Jews that can have negative connotations...however, when I hear it from a Chinese person I feel they mean it sincerely and with admiration.” He went on: “If anything, I’ve experienced pro-Semitism”—or what Jeremy Goldkorn, the founder of Danwei, a leading website covering Chinese media, advertising and urban life, coined “semitophilia.” It’s funny that as a response to this characterization, some cardcarrying ex-pats have seen a renaissance in their Jewish lives. More

“the mu shoo jews” in chinese

than just a reaction to this stereotyping, however, is a noticeable proactive move by almost all Beijing-based Jews toward the dynamic, tightly-knit local Jewish community, the importance of which becomes intensified by the transient nature of the local expatriate community. The aforementioned web entrepreneur began going to Chabad Beijing for Shabbat dinner, and met Jews from all over the world who were also “looking for a sense of community in China.” Shawn also attended Chabad, as well as the Reform congregation Friday night services. “From those places I formed friendships that I have maintained.” Beijing’s Jewish institutions are crucial for Ori Elraviv, a young Israeli father who heads up Dragon Post, a company that customizes, optimizes and tests mobile applications. The Elraviv family usually spends time at the Israeli Embassy, or at Chabad House—where the eldest son of the two children is enrolled in school (and where he studies Hebrew, English and Mandarin). Likewise, the more progressive Kehillat minyan brings Michael, who works in the U.S. Embassy, and his wife Devorah a community with which they can share their pride—a newly-born daughter. With the Israeli Embassy, Dini’s Kosher Market, a kosher restaurant, and Chabad all within walking distance—soon to be complemented by the new U.S. Embassy building—it becomes quite easy for Jews in Beijing to associate and meet. That said, these communities, like all previous Jewish gatherings in China, are fleeting. Devorah and family will return to the States within the year. The Elravivs are already looking for an exit strategy, or at least some means to reduce their time in China. Shawn and the entrepreneur came only to test their luck and business acumen in the world’s largest market, and plan to stay as long as it takes to establish their respective companies. Like the other ex-pats in Beijing, most people come either to study or to serve a rotation for their company or for the Foreign Service. A few others come on a whim, seeking adventure—and even the rare ones who settle roots here often return home once they’ve turned a profit or learned Chinese. As a result, the importance of such institutions as Chabad, the Kehillat minyan, or foreign embassies becomes heightened. Regardless of the strength and prominence of said institutions, and the increased importance of religion for Jews who live in Beijing, the transient nature of the Jewish community means that few Chinese have opportunities to develop lasting friendships with us. In a country whose citizens are legally barred from learning about Judaism, personal relationships may be the only way for the Chinese to learn who we are beyond the stereotypes. As individuals move on, fewer Jews are left here to defend our religion, our culture—or to explain why, come December 25th, it’s better to wish Americans “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”

seems broadly recognized that, after Bu ximate "enlightened" status. Count: 1576 around the world PresenTensemagazine.org

Manuela Zoninsein is a Princeton-in-Asia Fellow based in Beijing writing for Newsweek, the Engineering News-Record, and City Weekend’s dining section in the year leading up to the 2008 Olympics issue four 2008

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PresenTense Issue 4  

PresenTense 4 brings Social back

PresenTense Issue 4  

PresenTense 4 brings Social back

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