The American Jewish Committee San Francisco Office (AJC) and The Chinese International Cultural Exchange Center have collaborated to bring "Jews in Modern China,” an exhibit of photographs, documents and memorabilia portraying a unique chapter in Chinese and Jewish history, to San Francisco. This program is part of the Shanghai Celebration, a year-long San Francisco Bay Area-wide collaboration of exhibitions, films, performances, lectures and other events.
“The “Jews in Modern China” exhibit provides a wealth of information that will appeal to the Bay Area’s culturally diverse population,” said Linda Frank, chairman of the exhibit and an AJC board member. “Many people are unaware of the relationship between the Chinese and Jews during an eventful and dynamic period lasting more than a century. Today, with cultural and economic globalization, we view this exhibit not just as a retelling of history but also as an opportunity for the San Francisco Bay Area community to learn about the peaceful co-existence of two of the most ancient civilizations in the world.”
The exhibit follows Jewish communities that lived in harmony with their Chinese neighbors in Shanghai and other Chinese cities from 1840 -1949. Three distinct Jewish communities are explored: Sephardic merchants from Iraq, Russian Jews escaping czarist pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then the Russian Revolution after World War I, and European Jews escaping the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Jews lived in harmony with their Chinese neighbors due to shared cultural values such as strong family ties, an emphasis on the value of education, and, most crucial, religious tolerance.
“As the Nazis tightened their vise in Europe, China stood out as a notable exception to the nations of the world that had closed their doors to Jewish refugees seeking escape from persecution,” noted Frank. “The fortunate Jews who managed to get to China were not only able to land there without visas or passports but were also greeted by the Sephardic and Russian Jews who had established institutions and social services that helped integrate the newcomers into their new home.”