5 Chinese women immigrate to Israel, plan conversion
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5 Chinese women immigrate to Israel, plan conversion

Members of Kaifeng community, believed to be founded by 8th- or 9th-century Jewish traders, to undertake formal process to become Jews

From left to right: Li Yuan, Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Chengjin and Gao Yichen standing in front of the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, February 29, 2016. (Laura Ben-David/Courtesy of Shavei Israel)
From left to right: Li Yuan, Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Chengjin and Gao Yichen standing in front of the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, February 29, 2016. (Laura Ben-David/Courtesy of Shavei Israel)

Five women in their 20s from the Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng arrived in Israel to begin a new life as immigrants to the Jewish state.

The women, Gao Yichen, Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin, who have been studying Hebrew and Judaism in their native Kaifeng, arrived on Monday and traveled directly to the Western Wall.

They must still undergo a formal conversion by the country’s chief rabbinate.

The women will continue their Jewish studies at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Nishmat — the Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, with the support of the Shavei Israel organization, which will also cover their living expenses and support them as they prepare for their conversions. Upon completion of the conversion process, they will receive Israeli citizenship.

Being part of the Jewish people is an honor, because of the heritage and wisdom,” Li Jing said and explained that on a previous visit to Israel she placed a prayer note in a crevice of the Western Wall asking to return and live in Israel.

“Now, my prayer has been answered,” she said.

According to Shavei Israel, it was the first time in seven years that members of the Kaifeng community were able to immigrate to Israel.

“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, which seeks to strengthen ties to the descendants of Jews in communities around the world.

“After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Kaifeng Jews in recent years have begun seeking to return to their roots and embrace their Jewish identity.”

Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund, second from left, greets five women from Kaifeng, China after they arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, February 29, 2016. (Laura Ben-David/Courtesy of Shavei Israel)
Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund (second from left), greets five women from Kaifeng, China, after their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, February 29, 2016. (Laura Ben-David/Courtesy of Shavei Israel)

In October 2009, seven men from the community came to live in Israel. In total, Shavei Israel has brought 19 members of the Kaifeng Jewish community to Israel, the organization said in a statement.

The Kaifeng Jewish community is believed to have been founded by Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants in the 8th or 9th century. At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Kaifeng Jewish community may have numbered up to 5,000 people. Today, after centuries of assimilation and intermarriage, the community claims 500 to 1,000 members who continue to observe Jewish customs.

 

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