Twenty Million Chinese Jews?

Twenty Million Chinese Jews?

The world is full of coincidences and the longer you live the more you seem to encounter.  The following is just one of them.

When my wife and I were living in Japan in the early 1960s, the rabbi from the Jewish Community Center in Tokyo was a dinner guest at our home.  Originally from England, he was a learned man and had served in many countries, including in East Africa, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.

During dinner, he recounted the following story told to him by a member of his congregation in Tokyo.  During World War II this man had traveled widely in China to escape the war and in one of the areas of that vast land he discovered that 20 million Chinese Jews lived there!  The rabbi had no way to confirm the story, but he found it fascinating since that number was more than the total number of Jews worldwide – especially after the Holocaust.

Later, in the early 1970s, while writing about the high fashion shows in Paris, I had dinner with some fashion people, including a New York manufacturer and his designer. I mentioned the story of the 20 million Chinese Jews and the fashion designer, Eli Wachs, said, “Oh, yes, the Jews of —–“ (a rural area of China).  I was shocked that the story was well-known and probably true.

Wachs explained that his family had been merchants in Europe prior to World War II and had traveled widely in the lands between Russia and China. And that’s when they encountered the Chinese Jews.

There’s another story, whether true or not, that seems to affirm the story above.  According to legend (or some imaginative author), there was a Jewish traveler to China before Marco Polo. While traveling through the provinces he saw Jewish symbols and people who seemed to be observing Jewish rituals.

I don’t know if he found them eating bagels and lox, but who knows!

Beau Weisman, Editor