Judaic Center in China
US & Britain
China Judaic Studies Association
Promoting Judaic Studies in China
Xu Xin's Trip Report
2005 - Ninth Trip to America
2005: Ninth Visit to America:
By Xu Xin
Full! Enjoyable! Productive!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Reports on Xu's 2005 visit from the Jewish
Philadelphia Jewish Exponent
New Jersey Jewish News