Historic wedding represents ingathering of the exiles

jerusalem | In a historic and distinctive ceremony in the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem in January, Shoshana Rebecca Li, of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, wed Ami Emmanuel, a new immigrant from the United States.

More than 150 guests, including others from the Kaifeng Jewish community, participated in the wedding, which was organized by Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel.

Shoshana Rebecca Li, 29, is a descendant of the Jewish Community of Kaifeng, China, which flourished for more than 1,000 years on the banks of the Yellow River. She made aliyah to Israel two years ago, and recently completed her formal conversion back to Judaism by Israel's Chief Rabbinate.

Ami Emmanuel, 25, made aliyah to Israel nearly three years ago from Florida after studying film and directing. The new couple will live in Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Arava region, which was established in 1973 by young olim from the United States. The couple plans to build their home there.

"For me, to have a proper religious Jewish wedding in Israel — it is a dream come true," Li said. "I am very excited."

"No one in the world is as happy as I am," Emmanuel said. "I thought it impossible to marry a Jewish woman from China. However, it seems miracles do happen, and this is the biggest miracle of my life."

"This wedding symbolizes the beginning of the return of the remnants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China to the Jewish people and Israel," said Freund.

"Nearly 150 years after Kaifeng Jewry essentially ceased to exist, a wonderful young woman descended from the community is getting married to a new oleh [immigrant] from the United States under a Jewish wedding canopy in Jerusalem," he continued. "I cannot think of a more poignant example of kibbutz galuyot — the ingathering of the exiles."

Jews first settled in Kaifeng, China, more than 1,000 years ago when it was an important stop along the Silk Road. The community flourished, and numbered as high as 5,000 people in the Middle Ages. After the last rabbi of Kaifeng died in the first half of the 19th century, assimilation and intermarriage prevailed, eventually leading to the collapse of the community. Nonetheless, around 700 Jewish descendants remain in Kaifeng. Many are seeking to reclaim their Jewish identity.

Shavei Israel is a Jerusalem-based organization that reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. The organization also engages in the absorption of new olim in Israel, including providing assistance with housing, employment and professional training.