Passover | Kaifeng Jews celebrate first seder

Nearly 100 members of the ancient Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, are expected to attend their first traditional Passover seder Monday, April 14. The seder, which is being sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, will be conducted by 28-year-old Tzuri (Heng) Shi, who immigrated to Israel from Kaifeng a few years ago with the help of Shavei Israel and completed his formal return to Judaism last year.

Tzuri (Heng) Shi (left) and a Kaifeng Jewish boy photo/courtesy shavei israel

As part of the preparation for the seder, Tzuri was sent to Kaifeng by the Shavei Israel organization with all of the traditional Passover items, including packages of kosher matzah, wine, haroset, horseradish, kosher-for-Passover cakes and new Hebrew-Chinese haggadahs.

“We are proud and excited to organize this historic event,” said Shavei Israel chairman and founder Michael Freund. “Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people, and it is very moving to see the remnants of this community returning to their Jewish roots as they prepare for Passover.”

Shavei Israel is a nonprofit organization that helps Jewish communities, many of them marginal, connect with Israel.

Scholars believe the first Jews settled in Kaifeng, which was one of China’s imperial capitals, during the eighth or ninth century. At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Kaifeng Jewish community may have numbered as many as 5,000 people. But widespread intermarriage and assimilation, as well as the death of the community’s last rabbi, brought about its demise by the middle of the 19th century.

 Currently, there are estimated to be approximately 1,000 Jewish descendants in Kaifeng. — j. wire report