Jewish Journal


July 30, 2008

Jews in China roll out red carpet for Olympics [VIDEOS]

Web extra video: 'Sexy Beijing'




Gold medalists won't be the only ones climbing podiums in Beijing once the 2008 Olympic Games are under way. Isaac Shapiro will be stepping up to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

Isaac of Highland Park, Ill., will be called to the Torah at the Chabad House in Beijing on Aug. 16. Isaac and his family are among the hundreds of Jewish tourists, athletes, dignitaries and media expected to converge on the Chinese capital for the 2008 Olympic Games, which begin Aug. 8.

While most visitors probably don't even realize there is a local Jewish community in Beijing, the resident Jews of China's capital are getting ready to welcome anyone who seeks them out.

The Shapiro family was already planning a trip to Shanghai and then to the Olympics, motivated by Isaac's love of sports and his older sister, Chloe's, previous career as a competitive gymnast.

When Isaac's bar mitzvah tutor in Chicago, a photographer for the Games, suggested that he have his bar mitzvah in Beijing, it all clicked. Isaac's father, Sam, said the family didn't feel the need for a "big American bar mitzvah."

Shapiro offered many reasons for the offbeat choice of his son's bar mitzvah location.

"It will give Isaac a wonderful sense for the Jewish Diaspora," he explained. "We also wanted to give our kids a better understanding of China, since it is rapidly becoming one of the most important countries in the world."

While the bar mitzvah will make the second Shabbat during the Olympics an especially lively affair (in Chinese, they would say "renao") at the Chabad House, the local rabbi expects a big crowd the prior Shabbat, as well.

Rabbi Shimon Freundlich of Chabad Beijing said he expects a packed house in the already squeezed villa living room of the main Chabad House, which weekly is converted into a shul with mechitzah (partition) separating men and women.

He said he has been contacted by tourists from all over the world, including Australia, Israel, the United States and Europe, and even by some athletes directly. Without naming names, Freundlich did divulge that "there will be athletes at services."

"It will be packed wall to wall, no question," he said, noting that a larger hall could not be found because everything else was booked

Chabad will offer services three times a day every day during the Games, Freundlich said, at both the main Chabad house and at a central business district location.

The main Chabad house will also display a special Sino-Judaic exhibit of artifacts belonging to Jews around China in the last 200 years, including books, photographs and religious items like a Chanukiah from Shanghai.

While the Chabad community will be bustling, all signs indicate that the egalitarian, lay-led Kehillat Beijing minyan will have its share of visitors. Almost one-fifth of the total 18,000 hits on the Kehillat Web site, www.sinogogue.org, occurred in July.

Kehillat will only meet on the Friday nights of Aug. 15 and 22. The minyan decided to cancel its Shabbat services the night of the opening ceremony, figuring that Olympic guests might plan to attend that event instead. Even Kehillat regulars might find it hard to travel that night or simply might opt to watch the event on television. Kehillat Beijing does not have regular Saturday morning services.

Athletes and tourists alike will be taken care of when it comes to kosher food, due to months of preparation leading up to the Games.

There will be a place inside the Olympic Village for those seeking kosher food and prayer services. There are five places in the village that will host religious activities for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

Dini's promotional video

In the city, Dini's Restaurant, mainland China's only kosher eatery that is not part of a Chabad House, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On Shabbat, meals are served after services.

Over a period of several months, Dini's was visited by South African shochet (ritual slaughterer) Rabbi Chaim Klein, who prepared over seven and a half tons of beef and nine tons of chicken.

"Everything is slaughtered and in the freezer," said Freundlich, the Chabad rabbi.

Five rabbinical students from Australia, South Africa and the United States will go to Beijing for the Games to help at the restaurant, as well as perform tasks like delivering food or greeting people at the airport.

As a special Olympics precaution, the restaurant has arranged around-the-clock security. In addition, Dini's will make deliveries to hotels in the city.

Available for sale at both Dini's and Chabad locations will be a 65-page English-Chinese travel booklet written by Chabad, with helpful tips, especially for Jewish tourists.

The Israeli Embassy in Beijing is preparing an informational letter of its own for Israeli tourists, with a guide to the city and useful embassy information, according to Guy Kivetz, the embassy's press officer.

The embassy will provide support not only for Israeli tourists but also for the more than 20 expected journalists from Israel. Israel is sending 42 athletes to the games, a record for the country.

Security is always a concern.

"To host an Olympics is not easy securitywise," Kivetz said, "but we are confident in the measures that China is taking, and Beijing, compared to other places, is considered to be safe."

The Israeli Embassy will host an event on Aug 18 with the dual purpose of commemorating the 11 athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Games and welcoming the Israeli Olympic delegation.

In this episode of 'Sexy Beijing,' Su Fei tries to please her mother and go for one of her own kind. She visits the opening of the mikvah bath at a new Jewish community centre in Beijing and finds out what it would be like to go Orthodox. Shot and edited by Luke Mines, written by Anna Sophie Loewenberg, produced by Mines, Goldkorn and Loewenberg, music by Fernando Fidanza and the Chabad band, Chinese subtitles by Peng Xin.

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