In honor of Chanukah, the Jerusalem-based nonprofit Shavei Israel designed and produced hundreds of Dreidels with Mandarin lettering for the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, China, as well as for 20 members of the community who have already made Aliya to Israel with the organization’s assistance. Kaifeng is a city in the central Chinese province of Henan located southwest of Beijing and is home to hundreds of descendants of a once-thriving Jewish community that resided there for well over a millennium. The Dreidels are probably the first ones which has Chinese text on them which appears as follows:
伟大的 – Big; 奇迹 – Miracle, 发生过 – Happened; 这里曾 – here.
According to Shavei Israel’s Founder and Chairman Michael Freund, the first Jews to have settled in Kaifeng, one of the ancient imperial capitals of China, were Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants who traveled along the Silk Road in the 7th or 8th century CE. The community grew and prospered, and in 1163 built a large synagogue, which was renovated repeatedly down through the centuries. “At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty, Kaifeng had as many as 5,000 Jews,” said Freund.
Freund explains that widespread intermarriage and assimilation eventually set in, and the death of the community’s last rabbi in the early 19th century heralded the community’s demise as a collective entity. The synagogue, which had stood for 700 years, was destroyed by a series of floods that struck the city in the mid-19th century. According to him, there are currently an estimated 1,000 people in Kaifeng who are identifiable via family trees and genealogical records as descendants of the city’s Jewish community.
“The Chinese Jews of Kaifeng are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” said Freund. “Despite the severe restrictions imposed on them by the Chinese government in recent years, the Chinese-Jewish descendants are anxious to learn more about the heritage of their forefathers and we hope these Chinese-language Dreidels that we’ve prepared for them will give them a dose of happiness and light during Chanukah.”