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Prior Seminars

Summer 2002 - Overview

Workshop Report:

Jewish History and Culture

Nanjing University, Nanjing, China

(JULY 14--August 2, 2002)

By Professor Xu Xin, Director, Center for Jewish Studies,

Nanjing University

A three-week workshop on Jewish History and Culture was successfully held at Nanjing University, Nanjing, China, July 14--August 2, 2002.

Rationale: To 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.

Participants: 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Leaders: Seven instructors

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 remaining sessions

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 China.

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 language.

Teaching Contents: 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.

Methodology: 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.