Reprinted from the China
Judaic Connection, July, 1998.
My China: Jewish Life in the Orient: 1900-1950,
by Yaacov (Yana) Liberman.
(Gefen Publishing House, Ltd. POB 36004,
Jerusalem, 91360 , Israel. (972-2-5380247), email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also obtainable from the Judah L. Magnes Museum, 2911 Russell St., Berkeley,
CA 94705) ($20)
By Eleanor Parker
Although several former members of
the Jewish communities of Shanghai and Tientsin have written memoirs lately,
little has been published about the Harbin community, one of the strongest
and most viable. Yaacov Liberman was born in Harbin in 1923 and had extensive
contact with most of the Jewish communities in Tientsin; Shanghai; Taiwan;
Kobe, Japan; and Hawaii as well.
Born to wealthy parents, Liberman
was strongly influenced by the revisionist ideas of Vladimir Jabotinsky,
whose Zionist beliefs stated that the key to Jewish national rejuvenation
was to be found in the new generation of Jewish youth. Jobotinsky founded
the Betar movement which attracted young people, and the author was strongly
influenced by his train of thought. The entire book is permeated with references
to the Betar movement, so that the book becomes a personal memoir of political
Like many other foreign residents
of China, Harbin Jews had little contact with the Chinese people. However,
the Europeans, for the most part, moved freely and enjoyed peaceful interaction
with their neighbors. The Jews in China were quite distinctive ó they never
considered China a permanent home and realized that Chinese citizenship
required birth from a Chinese mother.
Zionism was important throughout
the Jewish communities and there was constant interaction with world Zionist
movements. Some of Israelís current leaders had Asian connections, including
Ehud Olmert, the Mayor of Jerusalem.
Harbin was a desirable place to live
and many cultural institutions were formed, including a Talmud Torah which
played an important part in the daily lives of the residents. Over 12,000
Jews living in Harbin were often oblivious to the political strife raging
around them. They were engaged in a myriad of businesses and professions,
eclipsing other Jewish communities in Mukden, Darien, and Tsingtao. A high
degree of cultural activities included theater, ballet, opera, several
orchestras and several newspapers. Graduates of Harbinís (Russian) high
school were well educated and matriculated into college and universities
in Europe and the United States without any language difficulties. One
major problem, however, was the kidnapping of wealthy Jews. If the ransom
was not paid or not paid quickly enough, the hostages were killed.
The Betar movement became a symbol
of Jewish conscience and pride, a guardian and Jewish honor and a security
force. Liberman was instrumental in establishing Betar movements or working
very closely with local groups wherever he went.
Because of his extensive travels,
Liberman was able to contrast daily life experiences in many communities.
Due to his political involvement, he met many local and foreign dignitaries.
He remained in Shanghai until December, 1948 when he then spent 52 days
aboard ship until he reached Haifa. But life did not end for him in Israel
--- he is too active a person. He became involved in Israeli politics and
remained dedicated to the Betar. He accepted a job in Tokyo and obtained
a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's in political science. He
became an active member of the Tokyo Jewish community as well.
Returning to Israel in 1972, he engaged
in the import-export businesses and from 1975 to 1985 he lived in Taiwan
where he helped establish Jewish institutional structures and was elected
President of the Taipei Jewish community for a year. He subsequently moved
to Hawaii and finally to San Diego where he resides today, writing articles
on Israeli politics and several plays as well.
His book is remarkable in covering
so much territory over a relatively short period of time. Most Jewish residents
in China lived in one or at the most two areas, Liberman was involved with
many communities in the orient. Constant references to his friend and acquaintances
and his political comments might be a negative factor for some readers,
but one cannot help but admire his contribution.
Eleanor Parker's parents lived
in Harbin from 1925 to 1935 and in Tientsin from 1935 to 1938.