China restoring two synagogues as museum of Jewish history

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2004

BEIJING (AP) China's northeastern city of Harbin is restoring two synagogues for use as a museum about its history as a center for Jews fleeing czarist Russia, the government said.

China served as refuge for thousands of Jews fleeing first Russia and then Nazi Germany. Though nearly all left after the 1949 Communist revolution, the government has restored synagogues in Shanghai and other cities as historical sites.

Work on the synagogues and a Jewish school in Harbin should be finished this year at a cost of $2.4 million, the official Xinhua News Agency said last week, citing Li Shuxiao, deputy head of the region's Jewish Studies Center.

More than 20,000 Jews lived in Harbin in the 1920s, making it the largest Jewish center in the Far East at that time, Xinhua said.

Shanghai later surpassed it as China's biggest Jewish community with the arrival of Jews fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s.

Despite the restoration of synagogues, Judaism is not one of China's officially recognized religions and the government hasn't allowed use of the synagogues for worship. Foreign-born Jews who live in China hold services in hotels or private homes.

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