(This was really my first entry). Shanghai is an impressive city in many ways and I’ll try to give more details in my Day 2 notes, but I’ll do today (Day 3) as it’s still fresh in my mind and this is the first night I’ve had a few minutes and not collapsed.
June 5, Day 3
After davening at the Chabad minyan in Shanghai I was wondering as to breakfast. There had been piles of frozen bread in the freezer, but I didn’t see any salesperson. To my stunned surprise, when I climbed up the stairs from the synagogue to the social hall, a full breakfast was laid out with fresh bread, croissants, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables and some other cooked dishes I couldn’t readily identify but ate and enjoyed anyway (free of charge!).
We were met at 9am by Yael Farjun, Israeli tour-guide living in Shanghai. She took us to Nanjing Road, the fanciest road in Shanghai which makes Fifth Ave. look like a peddler’ market. We then took the beautiful metro system to the Bund by the river. This is the site of beautiful upscale hotels and clubs dating back to the roaring 20’s.
Most of Nanjing Road and the Bund had been built by three powerful Jewish families in the late 1800s: Sasson, Kaduri and Khardoum. Jews enjoyed not only equality, but even great respect in Shanghai.
Khardoum was not particularly associated with the Jewish community, nor did he give any charity to the Jews of Shanghai. However, one night, his deceased father came to him in a dream and asked him to build a synagogue and that it should be larger than the one Sasson had built.
Khardoum built a 400-seat synagogue outside of the Jewish area that was apparently of no use to anyone. Years later, when the Mir Yeshiva fled Europe and reached Kobe, Japan and were then kicked out of Kobe, they were looking for and found a new home for their 400-strong Yeshiva…
We visited the local Jewish Museum. Extremely powerful and moving. I was in tears during several of the stories Yael told us. The Chinese General Consul in Austria who single-handedly saved 20,000 Jews by issuing visas. How Japanese occupying forces refused to kill the Jews of Shanghai under repeated Nazi requests. Perhaps the most interesting is a recently surfaced story based on newly released Japanese archives from WWII.
The Japanese did not understand the Nazi obsession with killing Jews. They summoned Sasson, Kaduri and Rabbi Ashkenazi (the Rabbi of Shanghai) to explain. Rabbi Ashkenazi told the history of the Jews from the time of Avraham. He stressed our Asian background. He finished by stating that the Nazis hated the Jews because we’re Asian and that after they are finished with the Jews, they would go after their Asian allies (Japan) next. This message was immediately conveyed to the Japanese Emperor, which created a growing distrust between the allies and may have affected the war effort more than we know.
In the museum we saw a picture of Avi Baumol’s grandfather (Granger, who we knew from Forest Hills). As well as many other Jews (Michael Blumenthal, US Secretary of Treasury, under Carter) who had grown up in Shanghai.
We caught an early dinner at Chabad (they make really good Chinese food here!) and then returned to Nanjing Road and caught the Acrobatic Show which was amazing.
For some reason, all this fun is exhausting and we are preparing ourselves for a full-day tour of the highlights of Shanghai tomorrow.
Stay tuned for more…