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Promoting Judaic Studies in China

Xu Xin's Trip Report

2005 - Ninth Trip to America

2005: Ninth Visit to America:
Full! Enjoyable! Productive!

By Xu Xin

Winter may not be the best time to visit the U.S., but for me, it is perfect because our universities break over the Chinese New Year's Holiday permitting me to leave my students right after their final exams to return just in time for the start of the new semester.

For this most recent 6-week foray, and my ninth trip to the U.S., I sought to fulfill three specific goals evolving from the need to raise additional support for programs on Judaism in China.

In 2004, Jewish programs blossomed. Nanjing University provided more space for books and classes. More graduates enrolled in degree programs resulting in the development of additional courses, and we are expecting even more to enter degree programs in the 2005-6. One faculty member, Dr. Lihong Song returned after spending one year at Tel Aviv University for his post doctorate study. In October, we successfully held the Frst International Symposium on Judaism in China. While we are delighted with this growth, this adds responsibilities. We must make sure that we have enough resources. This is where we have to turn to our friends and Jewish institutions and foundations for necessary support, as we did in the past.

What, then, are the three paramount goals?

1. Obtaining more books and materials on Jewish history and culture for our MA and Ph.D. candidates.
In the past 17 years, we have proudly accumulated a library of about 7,000 volumes on various Jewish topics. This is doubtless the largest Judaic library in China. However, it is not enough! We now need many more scholarly tomes -- which are certainly not available in China. We must get them from outside.

2. Creating exchange programs for young faculty and students.
This would be invaluable for our Ph.D. candidates -- an opportunity to attend Jewish institutions in the US to collect materials and initiate dissertation research. Fortunately, in the past three years, we received a number of scholarships from Israel, making it possible for one of our students to study there every year. This also is not enough. Some sources are drying up, and we may or may not get more. In any case, we still need additional new resources in order to lay a proper foundation for academic training. These students who major in Jewish studies will be the first, and most influential generation of officially trained Chinese scholars in the subject.

3. Setting future plans in motion.
This includes disseminating information about our Jewish programs, establishing contacts to further them, and setting special funds to cover lectureships, translations, and scholarship fund, to name the most obvious.

With all this in mind, I began a quest which blanketed the country, ultimately visiting and lecturing at Oakton Community College, Yeshiva University, Montclair State University, Princeton University, Lehigh University, Dickinson College, Baltimore Hebrew University, Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University.

I began in the center of the country: Chicago. . This was both deliberate and historically gratifying because the year of 2005 is the 20th anniversary of my personal meeting with Jim Friend, a visiting professor 5, who taught English of Nanjing University in 1985 when I then served as Deputy Chair in charge of teaching and international affairs. As I've told the tale innumerable times, that meeting established our deep friendship, and resulted in my first visit to the US in 1986. Jim not only provided me with a unique opportunity to be emerged in Jewish life, but also taught me an important concept: one man can make a difference.

He and his family made a big impact on me and, in return, I made a small difference in my own world by initiating the development of Judaic studies in China. Therefore, I wanted both to return to my roots, and also pay a tribute to him on this anniversary -- to let him know that the seeds he had sown had born fruit. I got the opportunity on the third day after our arrival, when my wife, our son, who is currently doing his MA in the US, Jim's wife, Beverly, and I visited his grave. While there, I felt his presence, wishing me to do better in the next 20 years. I sensed it again that evening when I spoke at his synagogue: The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston -- the place where I first started to experience Judaism.

Following Chicago, we moved on to the East Coast starting with a meeting at Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s home in New York City. The Rabbi, a longtime friend of China, plays an important role in promoting friendship between Chinese and Jews and a better understanding between China and the US. Our friendship can be traced back to 1998 when he visited China as head of the Religious and Human Rights Delegation of the United States sent by President Clinton. Prof. Ruth Bevan, Director of Schneier Center for International Affairs at Yeshiva University, Dr. Moshe Sokolow, and Fanya Gottesfeld-Heller, Professor of Jewish Education, joined our discussion of the development of the study of Judaism in China and possible ways Rabbi Schneier’s foundation and Yeshiva University could assist us.

While serving as a scholar-in-residence at Yeshiva University, I met Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, Vice President for University Life, and Dr. Mort Lowengrub, Vice President for Academic Affairs, to plan possible exchange programs, followed by a discussion with members of YC Rabbinical faculty, a visit to the library and a meeting with Pearl Berger, Director of Gottesman Library. We talked about possible assistance in build up our Judaic library at Nanjing University. Dr. Norman Adler, Dean of Yeshiva College, invited faculty members, friends of Yeshiva University and Rabbi Schneier and Prof. Adler, Prof. Bevan to discuss the possible ways to set up exchange programs. Hopefully, some programs may begin as early as 2006.

While in NY, my world became more varied as I was invited to speak on Chinese Rescuer Feng-Shan Ho at the First Internationals Rescuers Day organized by The Hidden Child Foundation, talk at the monthly dinner meeting of the Birthright Israel Alumni Association, lecture on “Translating Jewish Literature into Chinese” at Global Educational Center of Montclair State University, and speak at the Center for Jewish Life, Princeton University. I also paid a short visit and spoke at Temple Beth El in the Boston region.

I had a very fruitful meeting with Martin Blackman, President of the Skirball Foundation, which was kindly arranged by Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College. The Skirball Foundation has a long history of supporting Jewish studies programs in China in general and the programs of the Center for Jewish Studies at Nanjing University in particular. During the meeting, Mr. Blackman pledged, on behalf of the Foundation, their substantial support for a number of proposed projects. With a generous gift from the Skirball Foundation, we would be able to establish a Skirball Lectureship fund, a Skirball translation fund, and young-scholar training fund at our Center in 2005, which would strengthen our capacity to be even a greater service for Chinese scholars in the field of Judaica.

Afterwards, Dr. Gottschalk took me to visit the New York campus of Hebrew Union College and view the books belonging to his library, part of which will be donated to our Center by their owner.

I also met and dined with Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, Dr. Marina Cunningham, Director of the Global Education Center, who generously provided us with accommodations while we were in New York, and Mr. and Mrs. Shalom Yoran -- all are dear friends and supporters of our programs and I was so glad to see them.

Old friends are wonderful, but new ones can be equally gratifying.  My visit to Dickinson College was initiated by a freshman who learned about my trip to the US while surfing the web and recommended me to the Center for Jewish Life there. I had a great time meeting her before I spoke to the student audience.

The visit to Lehigh University was very special and personal. It was first suggested by Nancy Berman and Alan Bloch, a couple whom I had the pleasure of traveling during their 2004 trip to China. Nancy’s philanthropic parents fund the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation and when the Berman Center for Jewish studies and Asian Studies Program at Lehigh University invited me for the visit, Nancy and Alan urged usto stay at her parents’ home, which is a veritable art museum. Never I have never seen a home with so big a collection of sculptures and paintings. They graciously entertained us with over 50 invited guests. What hospitality! As a scholar-in-residence, I presented a public lecture, spoke to a couple of classes, had a dinner-discussion with faculty members. In addition, I was also invited to speak at the Jewish Federation of the region. The whole visit was fruitful. The Berman Center for Jewish Studies plans to send us books and other materials. The Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation, which sponsored the International Symposium on Judaism held at Nanjing University in October 2004, pledged its continuing support for the further growth of our Center.

The visit to Baltimore Hebrew University (BHU) was initiated by Dr. Rela Geffen, President of the University. Our visit started with a dinner reception at the home of President of the Board of BHU, followed by a public talk on February 9, which happened to be the Chinese New Year’s Day. The next day I visited and gave a speech at the Johns Hopkins University, a sister school of Nanjing University. The best-known project between our two institutions is the Center for Sino-American Studies, which trains both Chinese and American students under one roof in Nanjing. I also had opportunity to meet students and faculty. Dr. Geffen kindly invited us to lovely Shabbat dinner at her apartment. During our visit, we stayed at home of Dr. and Mrs. Frank Schuster, who I also had the honor meet during their 2004 China visit. Sue Schuster is a board member of BHU. On Saturday evening, a tea and desert party for over 50 guests was held at their home. We were so glad to meet so many new friends. During our stay Elaine Eckstein and Jean Bernstein from BHU made a great effort to enrich our visit.

The next stop on our agenda was UC Berkeley, which was arranged completely by Mrs. Sophie Souroujon, staff-person for The Chancellor’s Office and Coordinator of Regents’ Professorships and Lectureships Committee on the Berkeley campus before she retired. She had been born and grew-up in China and came to attend the International Symposium on Judaism as a part of her home-coming visit. The itinerary she prepared for our visit missed no details. With her perfect arrangements, I had productive meetings respectively with Professor Daniel Boyarin, a well-known scholar on Talmudic studies, Professor Yuri Slezkine, scholar of Russian Jewish History, and Professor Emeritus Edwin M. Epstein of Walter A. Haas School of Business and Public Policy Group and current Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies. Professor Boyarin promised to look for funds to have our young faculty members to do research at his department and presented me with a copy of his most celebrated book, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture. Professor Slezkine presented me with a copy of his latest book, The Jewish Century. Professor Epstein gave me a number of his articles on Jewish perspectives on business ethics.

I had a chance to meet Director Peter Zhou and other staff members of the East Asian Studies Library and had an extensive tour of the Doe Library with Paul Hamburg, Librarian for the Judaica Collections, University of California. The tour included the Morrison Room, the Reference Room and various offices where binding and publications are stored and prepared.  We also visited the Bancroft Library and the Robbins Collection at the School of Law, and agreed to exchange books and publications.

Our visit to the Judah l. Magnes Museum was both delightful and fruitful. We were greeted by Founder and Emeritus Director Seymour Fromer; James Leventhal, Development Director; Professor Emeritus Gregory Grossman (Economics, UCB) and several staff members of the Museum, who provided an outstanding and extensive personal docent tour conducted by Fromer and Leventhal. A gift of the Museum’s books were presented to our Center before the visit ended.

Besides a formal presentation at the Center for Chinese Studies, kindly arranged by Professor Jeffrey Riegel, Chair of the Center for Chinese Studies, I was invited to speak at Berkeley Hillel, including a visit to Lehraus Judaica located in the basement of Berkeley Hillel. Gordon Gladstone, Israel Initiatives Coordinator and Program Officer, presented us over 10 books as a gift.

My appearance at Stanford University in Palo Alto was arranged by Dr. Wendy Abraham, Associate Director of Stanford Center for Buddhist Studies. Before the talk, I had a chance to meet Prof. Arnie Eisen, Chair of the History Department. While there I also saw and had dinner with Prof. Albert Dien, President of the Sino-Judaic Institute, and Mr. Shelton Ehrlich, Treasurer of the SJI. I updated to them the progresses of our Center in 2004.

The day before my departure for home, I had a very unique and unforgettable experience: I was invited to speak to a group of Chinese from the mainland and Taiwan.

Though I had given over 300 speeches in the US in the last 10 years, I had never been invited by a Chinese organization in the US for a talk. From the very beginning I made it very clear, when asked by my fellowmen why I chose Jewish culture as my research and teaching subject, that the fundamental purpose of my study of Jewish subjects is for Chinese to have a better understanding of Jewish people and their culture, which I believe could provide many possible lessens for the Chinese who have been striving for modernization and democracy.
 Most of my publications and teaching aim at Chinese readers and audiences. I always want to share my thought and understanding of Jewish people and culture with my countrymen. Nothing would make me happier than having this opportunity. I was extremely happy when opportunity appeared thanks to the efforts made by Marjorie Li, Director of Branch Libraries, Oakland Public Library, who is a American Chinese. The topic I chose for this special audience was “Jews and Chinese: Why we need to study Judaism.” Though I spoke for two complete hours, a fairly long talk for a public lecture, nobody attending the talk thought I had spoken enough. Obviously all were very much interested in the subject and wanted to hear more. I agreed to come back in my next trip.

My adventure did not end there. On the eve of my return, I was invited to attend and speak at the 3rd Annual Be’chol Lashon International Think Tank on ethnic and racial diversity in the Jewish community organized by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco. It was there that I met racially and ethnically diverse Jewish leaders, literally from all over the world and representing many ethnic Jews. It was a great joy to talk to many of them. I did not go to sleep until small hours in the morning.

I must say that I had a full, enjoyable and productive trip though I wished I had not been forced by time considerations to turn down quite a few invitations that were kindly extended to me during this visit including those for wedding and a Bar Mitzvah. My wife and I would certainly have loved to accept had our schedule permitted.
When we finally sat on the airplane back home we sincerely thanked in our heart each and every one who had assisted us and made our trip a happy success.

Reports on Xu's 2005 visit from the Jewish Press:

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent

New Jersey Jewish News