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Chinese Gefilte Fish

January 18, 2007

Rabbi Aubrey  Hersh
Two Jews are driving through a large city that neither of them had visited before. After a while, one says to the other, "I think we're in the Jewish neighbourhood." “How do you know?” says the other. "Because I've already counted 3 Chinese restaurants!"
 
Rare indeed is the Jew who is not enamoured of Chinese food; but how did it happen? How did Jews from such places as Minsk, Pinsk, Paris & Fez become so taken with Peking duck and Wonton soup?
 
Well the Jewish connection to China actually goes back quite a while. More than 4,500 miles from Jerusalem, a Jewish community of 10,000 people lived in China during the Sung Dynasty (960–1279) and Marco Polo recorded that even the ruler Kublai Khan took part in celebrating the festivals of the Jews.
 
In fact evidence of a Jewish presence in China goes back to the 7th century, when Jews arrived from Persia along the Silk Route, settling in Xi'an (then the largest city in the world). A letter - written around 718 - was found there 100 years ago, written in Judeo-Persian using Hebrew letters. During the Ming dynasty, the Emperor conferred on the Jews 7 surnames: Ai, Lao, Jin, Li, Shi, Zhang and Zhao, which are the only ones Chinese Jews use to this day.
 
Although Jews lived peacefully in China for 1200 years, there are very few left today, but with Beijing hosting the Olympics in 2008, it’s time to brush up on your Chinese and get out those chopsticks!
 
Rabbi Aubrey Hersh