“Judaism is not one of the five authorized religions, and therefore is illegal,” authorities tell the century-old Jewish community.
by Wang Yichi
Kaifeng, Henan, is home of a Jewish community that dates back to the 9th century. We told their story in Bitter Winter before. Because of economic problems and natural disasters, what was once a significant community was reduced to some 1,000 members, and the Cultural Revolution was the last straw, threatening their very existence.
Under Deng Xiaoping’s policy of limited religious tolerance, with the help of foreign Jews, they were able to rebuild a small synagogue, to display memories of their history, to restore an ancient well located where their first place of worship presumably was, and to teach Hebrew and Judaism to their children. Worship services attracted some 100 believers, but the community felt alive again.
Foreign Jewish tourists liked to visit the synagogue site, and some modest signs and displays told them the long history of Kaifeng Judaism.
Enter Xi Jinping. Cooperation with foreign religious institutions was strictly forbidden. For the Kaifeng Jews, receiving assistance from overseas co-religionists gradually became impossible. More recently, all Jewish signs were removed from the premises used for the synagogue.
While memories of Kaifeng Judaism disappeared, signs promoting the government’s attacks and repression against religion were hung everywhere in the site. They reminded the passers-by that only religion approved by the government is allowed. “Judaism is not one of the five authorized religions, believers were told, and therefore is illegal.”
A surveillance camera has been installed in the location, and local Jews are scared away from going there. Near the site, the authorities installed a “Community Comprehensive Cultural Service Center.” From Monday to Sunday, personnel assigned by the government are installed there, taking turns to closely monitor the activities in the site and the movements of the passers-by.
Even the old well at the site of the old synagogue was buried and sealed in, despite the fact that it was listed as a “unit of special protection” by the Kaifeng Cultural Relics Bureau. The stele bearing the words “Unit of Cultural Relics Protection” was removed, and the old well disappeared.
“I still vividly remember that the stele with a base was dug out, leaving a pit there. We used to stand there to sprinkle salt and offer prayers. But now hollies have been planted on it, and no trace remains,” a local woman of Jewish descent told Bitter Winter.
International media also reported more repression in these days, during the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Local Jews stated that they are even afraid to congregate in restaurants, where the owners know they are Jews and may report them to the police. Resiliently, they gather in private homes. But for how long this will be possible is unclear.