Jin, 22, and Wang, 21, arrived in Israel at the beginning of 2006, together with two other friends from Kaifeng on tourist visas. They received temporary resident status after they begun conversion studies and received citizenship after undergoing a conversion ceremony in a rabbinical court. Wang explains that as children their parents and grandparents “told us we are Jews and that one day we’d return to our land.” Jin Jin boasts, “We have a family burial plot that goes back dozens of generations, and we have genealogy books showing our connection with earlier generations of Jews.”
The town’s Jews reconnected with mainstream Jewry thanks to visits by Jewish tourists, who brought learning materials and religious objects to local Jews. Jin’s uncle Shlomo Jin went to the Israeli embassy in Beijing eight years ago seeking to immigrate to Israel. Embassy officials didn’t want to hear about it, so he eventually came to Israel with his family via a European country. Shavei Israel, an organization which reaches out to lost Jewish communities, helped community members get accepted into a conversion program.
Back in 2005 I went up to Haerbin on China’s May vacation. Haerbin once had a prosporous Jewish community, with two Synagogues and a Jewish school. The Synagogues are still standing but remain closed to the public and the old Jewish school is now a Korean girl school. Dr. Irena Vladimirsky writes a fascinating article on the history of Judaism in Haerbin (if you are surfing from China try this link).