Saturday, October 25, 2008

Strange Goings On In China

Truth is stranger than fiction.

So I am sitting in the train from Hefei to Shanghai (I have been in China this past week) thinking that its Shabbat and normally I would be in synagogue, so I hum some niggunim and recite Birkhot Hashachar, and a few other prayers from memory, and then I get to thinking that when I get to my Shanghai hotel I should send out an email reminder about the Talmud group I lead, and isn't all this thinking about things Jewish odd, seeing as how far away I am from any Jews or anything remotly Jewish for that matter, and then, just as we pull into Nanjing Station, I glance down at the China Daily News I have, and I see this small story.

Boost for Jewish Studies

The Institute of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University has received an initial grant of #125,000 from the Exilarch Foundation, London.

The endowment fund will be named The Naim Dangoor Fund for Universal Monotheism Studies, in honour of the philathropist Naim Dangoor [see photo above] who started the foundation.

"This gift from the Exilarch Foundation will enhance our ability to collaberate with other institutions and to train and encourage students to carry out research in Jewish studies," said Xu Xin, director of the Jewish Studies Institute.

So what's weirder? A Jewish Studies Institute at Nanjing University headed by one Xu Xin, or the fact they got a grant from a foundation named for a hereditary position - the Exilarch - that has been defunct for about 900 years, but which a quirky Iraqi Jewish millionaire living in London tried to revive. Or is it the fact that the story even made it into the China Daily. Or is it the fact that I read it when I did and actually "got" the reference to the Exilarch, since we had just been reading about him - not Naim Dangoor, but one of the original ones - in last weeks Talmud class.

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(You can read more about the Excilarch (or Resha Galuta as he is referred to in the Talmud) here. And you can read more about Mr Dangoor, the would be modern Exilarch, here.)

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Postscript: The next morning after I posted the above, I was walking down Shanghai's fancy shopping street, Nanjing Rd, and came upon a large non-commercial building: a low 100 year old mansion, on large grounds, behind a wall and massive rolling iron gates. There was a plaque on the wall in Chinese and English:
722 Nanjing Rd. W. Jewish Club, Designed by Lafuentes and Wotten Architects. Built 1911, brick and concrete. Renaissance Style.
So I guess I was not so far from things Jewish after all.


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