China Judaic Studies Association
Promoting Judaic Studies in China
Xu Xin's Trip Report
2001 to Harvard and Israel
From Harvard to Israel and
By Xu Xin
Nearly six months have elapsed since I left China for the United
States last January. As I pack for home, I look back on a colorful and
Harvard — and Beyond
This fourth trip to the US marks
my third visit to Harvard. This time, my primary goals were to create curricula
and syllabi of Jewish education for Chinese scholars, originate and integrate
appropriate Chinese textbooks and readers to serve courses and mini-units,
and to complete my second book in English: A History of the Chinese
Jews of Kaifeng, started nearly two years ago.
The research went well. With kind
assistance from the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies and the extraordinary
resources available at Harvard, the program is off to a good start, and
the new book is completed. Now, I am anxious to institute the new course
schedule into Nanjing University where I have been teaching courses on
Jewish subjects (moving from Jewish American authors to Jewish culture)
for the last 15 years. While I had learned and applied much from an earlier
visit to the United States where I studied Talmud for over a year at Hebrew
Union College in Cincinnati, this curriculum will move further to incorporate
additional historic material, and a more specific examination of Jewish
contributions to world history.
The manuscript of the new book is
in the hands of my publisher, KTAV. In this work, I attempt to paint a
comprehensive picture of the history of the Kaifeng Jewish community against
the Chinese society in which the Kaifeng Jews had lived since the 11th
century. This is in contrast to my earlier work, Legends of the Chinese
Jews of Kaifeng, a retelling of Kaifeng’s oral history.
Research at Harvard was punctuated
by the many invitations and opportunities to speak throughout the country.
Unfortunately, it was impossible to accept all the invitations and still
accomplish my goals. However, I managed to present talks at various educational
and religious sites. In addition to speaking at Harvard, I lectured at
the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of
California in Los Angeles, the University of Florida, Case Western Reserve,
Smith College, Gratz College, Cleveland College of Jewish Education, Montclair
State University, and various Jewish congregations. The Chinese version
of my speech at the Harvard-Yenching Institute on Jewish Diaspora in Modern
China was published in the Boston Chinese News (March 27).
Topics included "Israel through Chinese
Eyes," "Kaifeng Jews," "The Jewish Diaspora in Modern China," and "Relations
Between China and Israel."
The Holocaust Museum
In addition to research at Harvard,
I spent three weeks (April 27 to May 14) at the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington DC working on Holocaust studies as a new
and integral component of the new Jewish curriculum. As I worked, I came
to appreciate the importance of Holocaust education in China — which has
been a neglected area of study. No Chinese school has ever taught this
subject — so far.
Now, however, with the rapid development
of Judaic studies programs in the last 10 years, a number of books and
articles on the Holocaust have begun to appear and arouse scholarly interest.
Holocaust education is still completely new to the Chinese. During my Washington
stay, I spent most of my time looking through programs on Holocaust education,
viewing video tapes about the Holocaust, and reading related books and
materials. I am grateful to Dr. Peter Black, senior researcher and historian
at the Museum, for his suggestions about the teaching of the Holocaust
at the college level and the materials and copies of the syllabus he developed.
The materials (books, and video tapes)
I gathered will help start this course in China, as Chinese scholars pay
additional attention to our own parallel experience, the Nanjing massacre
conducted by the Japanese troops during World War II.
Two Weeks in Israel
I also made a third trip to Israel
(May 14-28). At the invitation of Professor Yarom Dinstein, President of
the Tel Aviv University, my mission was to participate in the week-long
annual conference of the Board of Overseas Governors of the University.
Board members, scholars and friends of Tel Aviv came from throughout the
world to celebrate and provide support for the development of the University.
Besides attending the many meetings, speeches, and receptions, I was invited
to participate in one inauguration after another, for a building, or a
lecture hall, or individual professorships.
President Dinstein kindly devoted
time from his busy schedule to meet and discuss future projects such as
the development of Jewish studies in China. I also met with Dr. Daskal,
Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Prof. Oppenheimer, Director of the Institute
of Jewish History, and Prof. Shavit, Chair of Jewish Studies Department,
about training our students at Tel Aviv University and potential exchange
At the invitation of Prof. Ish-Shalom,
Rector of Jerusalem’s Beit Morasha Center for Advanced Jewish Studies,
I lectured on "the Disappearance of Jews in China." I also visited Bar-Ilan
University, arranged by Professor David Grossman, and discussed additional
Meetings with Professor Jonathan
Francel of Hebrew University of Jerusalem were especially productive. I
expect this will lead to further assistance and support of the foundation
of Judaic studies programs I am developing in China.
The time of my visit to Israel matched
the Jubilee (50th) Anniversary of the founding of the State. My wife, Kong
Defang, and I arrived in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day and saw the grand parade
marking this red-letter day. Never before had Israel looked so beautiful
and prosperous in my eyes. I tried to recollect my memories of Israel five
years earlier, and found it was hard to compare with what I saw this time.
Visiting both Israel and the United
States provided me a great opportunity to see many old friends and make
many new ones. I was able to visit the charitable foundations that have
provided generous support in the past, and to report our accomplishments
as well as offer gratitude for their support.
Future Workshop Planned
During this visit, very generous
support and endorsements from various foundations have enabled the Association
to plan another workshop on Jewish History and Culture for Chinese scholars
in the summer of 1999.
I was extremely happy that my wife
could join me in early March for three months. Our travels in the U.S and
Israel allowed me to show her the exciting side of my research abroad and
to repay her, in some small way, for her continued support and encouragement.
When she asked why I felt that the
life I had was so rich, I answered with the following words of Jewish wisdom:
"He who increases (studies) Torah increases life."
I would like to add, that he who
is able to share this study — his life’s work — with a loving companion,
is indeed rich.