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China Judaic Studies Association 
Promoting Judaic Studies in China

Xu Xin's Trip Report

2001 to Harvard and Israel

Scholar's Report:

From Harvard to Israel and Back

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 fruitful experience.

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 programs.

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 exchange programs.

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.