On the left is an almanac of a 趙 (Zhao) family in China. Notice some names in Chinese and some in Hebrew.
It was more than 20 years ago when I first learned that there were Jews in China. Rabbi Kirschner of Congregation Emanu-el lent me a book on the topic, Jews in Old China: Studies by Chinese Scholars by Sidney Shapiro. That must have been the first English language book written about the Chinese Jews. Since then, there has been many books telling the tales of Jews in Old and Modern China.
Jewish visitors had been documented as early as 231 BCE. They came via the Silk Road through Central Asia and India, and they traded with merchants in Kaifeng, the largest city at the time. Some time during history, the Jews must have brought the game Mah-Jong back home. So many of my temple sisters play that game, and I would be one of the rare ones who don’t know how. I blame that on my Dad.
Growing up in Hong Kong, many people played Mah-Jong, including my mom. There were several few times when I would stand next to the table to watch all the players shuffle those pretty tiles. Each time, my Dad would tell me to get away from the table because he didn’t want me to be “learning about gambling”. (The game uses these colorful chips as bets.) And no, they never used any game cards.
I hope some day I can visit the different Jewish communities, or the sites of old communities, in Kaifeng, Shanghai, Harbin, and Beijing. I just think that it would be a very interesting trip.
(I am a Jew, by choice.)