(JULY 14--August 2, 2002)
By Professor Xu Xin, Director, Center for Jewish
A three-week workshop on Jewish History and Culture was successfully
held at Nanjing University, Nanjing, China, July 14--August 2, 2002.
promote the study of Jewish subjects among Chinese scholars and develop
various projects and programs arising as a logical outgrowth of work in
Judaic Studies carried out for the past 15 years.
More than 200 books on Jewish subjects have been published in Chinese
as knowledge of Jewish history, Judaism, culture and people dramatically
expands. However, bringing newly available information to a wider audience,
especially to the younger generation currently studying at Chinese universities
and colleges, requires special effort. Few universities and colleges in
China have ever had Jewish programs.
To reach students, one must reach their teachers.
This workshop on Jewish history and culture specifically trains Chinese
professors who currently lead courses in world history or western civilization.
The goal -- to present reliable, accurate, and concrete knowledge of Jewish
history and culture through intensive study -- is facilitated by Jewish
scholars from outside China. This, in future, enables local professors
to incorporate information of Jewish history and culture into the scope
of their courses, passing on the knowledge to their students. Following
the success and effectiveness of the first two such workshops, held by
the Center during the summers of 1997 and 1999, inspired a third seminar,
which was organized and presented in the summer of 2002.
Forty-eight Chinese were invited to attend the seminar and received scholarships.
Although the original design called for a class of no more than 30,
increased interest and demand expanded the original plan. The participants
formed three groups:
- A core group of 20 instructors or research fellows from 17 institutions
in 15 provinces in China consisted of trained historians who have been
teaching world history for years.
- A graduate student group of 16 Ph.D. or MA candidates from some
of the best-known universities in China will most likely become college
instructors or research fellows in Chinese institutions upon graduation.
- A special group of 12 Jewish descendants from Kaifeng who consider
themselves descendants, but know very little about Jewish history and traditions,
had opportunity to study Jewish history and culture (including Hebrew language)
systematically. Because they are non-academic and do not have necessary
English knowledge, we provided special classes for them.
While the previous two workshops were solely, led by Jewish scholars,
this time Chinese scholars were also involved. The use of Chinese faculty
established the Chinese character of the program and solved language problems.
In addition, Chinese instructors provided the necessary background knowledge
of Jewish studies that will be the basis for the additional instruction
offered by outside experts.
Prof. Xu Xiangqun from Beijing and Prof. Xu Xin of Nanjing University
served as local faculty, teaching of the first week of the seminar. Both
Judaic scholars have considerable teaching experience and have published
books on Jewish topics.
Three professors from the United States and Israel conducted the
Samuel Heilman, professor and Chair of Jewish studies at the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York.
Menachem Friedman, professor of Bar-Ilan University.
Gustavo Perednik, Director of the Program for Education and Understanding
of the Jew’s Role in the World in Israel.
The use of foreign experts for two thirds of the seminar provided
pedagogic resources on Jewish history and culture that are presently unavailable
In addition faculty wives, scholars Ellen Heilman, and Tamar Friedman,
taught workshop classes, with emphasis on those sessions especially set
up for the Kaifeng Jewish descendants on customs, traditions and the Hebrew
Varied and Multiple
Division of labor was laid out before the seminar started.
Xu Xiangqun focused six lectures on the early Jewish history and
Jewish spirit. Three sessions dealt with the history from Abraham to the
destruction of the Second Temple followed by one the outline of Diaspora
history and two on Jewish spirit.
Xu Xin’s instruction emphasized characteristics of Jewish history
and culture, which complemented Prof Xu Xiangqun’s subjects. He also covered
the history of Jewish Diaspora in China, one of his primary research fields.
Both Chinese professors provided a general outline of Jewish history
and culture and introduced essential terminology for the participants.
Heilman taught a Jewish history course covering an introduction to
the ethos and worldview of Jewish history, Pre-exilic Jewry, European Jewry,
Sephardic Jewry, modern Jewry, and American Judaism. The intention was
to give participants a general overview of Jewish history from the viewpoint
of a Jewish scholar. (Details are available in Heilman's report.)
Friedman covered two main subjects: Nation in Exile—The Riddle of
Jewish Existence and The Founding of the State of Israel. (Details are
available in Friedman's report.)
Perednik taught Jewish identity, the Hebrew Bible, Jewish faith and
values, Jewish philosophy, the nature of Judeophobia, the image of the
Jews, to Jewish contributions. (Details are available in Perednik's report.)
Ellen Heilman taught Jewish holidays and rituals to the class of
the Kaifeng Jewish descendants with emphasis on practical applications,
for instance, how to set seder at home for Passover. (Details are available
in Mrs. Heilman's report.)
Tamar Friedman chiefly taught spoken Hebrew and Jewish songs to the
Kaifeng Jewish descendants. (Details are available in Mrs. Friedman's report.)
All the scholars presented lectures to the Kaifeng class.
Certain inevitable overlapping helped the participants to obtain
a better understanding.
Subject freedom and much preparation
Before coming to China, each scholar worked out a detailed syllabus.
Six hours per day were devoted to instruction: three for history
and three for culture. The history class was taught on topics rather than
on strict lineage, giving a general background and an all-around picture
of each issue. The culture class was equipped with video tapes, computer
projector, Jewish artifacts, and engaged in various activities such as
setting up Sabbath service, blowing the shofar, reading Hebrew, and singing
Jewish songs. Over 20 artifacts collected by Prof. Xu Xin were presented
to the participants including a Torah scroll, Sabbath candle stick, teffilin,
tallit, mezuzah, shofar, megillah scroll, yarmalke, seder plate, spicebox,
yad. The intention was to provide the participants with as much tangible
and concrete knowledge of Jewish culture as possible. Discussion sessions
were structured to provide feedback.
In the first week, when lectures were given in Chinese, all participants
attended the same class. Two classes were set up in the next two weeks
when foreign experts taught. One was intended for academic participants
and the other for the Kaifeng Jewish descendants. An English interpreter
was assigned for Kaifeng class to make sure the descendants understood
these special lectures.
Several evenings a week. an Ulpan (Hebrew class) was set to assist
academic participants in learning Hebrew. This made it possible for them
to acquire knowledge of the basic Hebrew vocabulary which appears regularly
in Judaic studies. Voluntary participation in the evening programs also
included viewing over a dozen video tapes which supplemented formal classes.
Films from Jewish history to Jewish life, from Holocaust to Middle-East
conflicts were shown. These not only strengthened the regular teaching
but also enriched the cultural knowledge of the participants.
Various activities -- including outings and weekend tours -- were
organized to bond instructors and participants.
This session was better prepared with materials than the previous
seminars. A number of books in Chinese had been ordered and freely distributed
among the participants either as reference or reading materials. They included
the Chinese edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica, Anti-Semitism: How
and Why by Xu Xin, the Chinese version of the Dent Atlas of Jewish
History by Martin Gilbert, Cactus in the Desert--Sketch of the Jews
by Xu Xiangqun, and Ahad Ha’am and Jewish Spirit by Alfred Gottschalk.
Pamphlets prepared by Xu Xiangqun and Perednik were also distributed. All
participants received essential handouts.
The Judaic library built up by the Center for Jewish Studies at Nanjing
University was open during the seminar and the participants were free to
use it, including borrowing books for further reading. A Chinese version
of Passover Hagadah was specially prepared for the Kaifeng group.
At the request of participants, CD programs on various Jewish subjects
such as "Seven Keys to Jewish Life," "Israel: A Nation Is Born," The Long
Way Home," "The Longest Hatred," "Discover—Jews under the Wailing Wall,"
"Genocide," "This Is Israel," were distributed. These materials will be
made available for them to use at their home institutions when they include
Jewish history and culture in their teaching.
Survey of the Workshop
In order to assess effectiveness of the workshop, a final survey
was conducted. According to this survey, most participants came with little
knowledge of Jewish history and culture. Very few had ever heard of Jewish
such classic works as the Mishna, Talmud, Midrash, or commentaries.
The three-week training period helped them to gain some concrete concepts
about Jews, the dynamic aspects of Judaism, Jewish experiences throughout
history, and Jewish contributions to the world civilization in general
and to the Western civilization in particular.
They now have had a deeper understanding of who Jews are, what makes
Jewish history unique, the meaning and inspiration of Judaism, Jewish viewpoints,
Jewish contributions to the world, the social consciousness and justice
of the Jewish people, causes of anti-Semitism and persecution, the meaning
of Zionism, Jewish values, the meaning of Jewish holidays, and the continuity
and the development of Jewish history and culture. Those not only reflect
different needs and perspectives of the participants but also show the
wide ranges the workshop covered.
One participant wrote:
It’s the first time for me to listen to Jewish scholars’ lectures,
from which I know how they look at their own history and culture. It is
a new experience for me. I have a new knowledge about Jewish culture. It’s
the first time for me to learn Hebrew language though only a little, which
is meaningful to me.
Obviously, the three-week workshop provided a rare and unique opportunity
for Chinese scholars to learn about Jewish history and culture without
going abroad. To absorb information about Judaism from celebrated and experienced
Jewish professors is unique. Jewish and Chinese scholars spending three
weeks together offered Chinese scholars a chance to have direct, concrete
contacts with Jewish culture. It was the first time for many participants
to meet Jews in person and have direct contacts with them.
In their words, they not only learned about Jewish history and culture
but also "touched and tasted Jewish life."
Again as always, participants wish that the organizers and instructors
would keep in touch with them after the workshop and assist them in their
teaching and research by providing materials, some basic Jewish books,
and further learning opportunities.
Finally, the organizer wishes to thank all institutions, foundations,
and individuals who encouraged us to hold this kind of workshop, to support
the idea, and to provided necessary funds for its success.