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85-year-old synagogue marks Chinese-Jewish friendship
Updated: 2006-01-09 09:14

The 85-year-old synagogue in Harbin once again witnessed the historic friendship between Chinese and Jewish nationalities as a Jewish historical and cultural exhibition was unveiled in the city Sunday.

Surrounding with silver birches with strong northeast China flavors, the black marble monument standing in front of the exhibition hall records the names and photos of Jews that once lived in the city and remained here forever.

The exhibition presents the Huangshan Jewish Cemetery burying nearly 600 Jewish people, and it offers pictures, videos, sand tables and sculptures, an overall description of the Jew's religious, political, economic and cultural activities in Harbin more than half a century ago, said Qu Wei, president of Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

Due to the racism, a large number of Jewish people came to Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, from Russia, East Europe and some other countries from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.

They formed quite complete living communities in the city, and the Jewish dwellers exceeded 20,000 in the 1920s, making it once the largest gregarious center for Jews in the Far East region.

"The Jewish people suffered longtime persecution in the past but they found their home in China and were well treated by the Chinese," said Chen Haosu, President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Chen said the exhibition is held to let more people remember what happened and further promote the friendship between the people of the two nationalities.

The Heilongjiang Provincial and Harbin Municipal governments have invested more than 20 million yuan (2.5 million U.S. dollars) in renovating many Jewish historical sites, including this huge synagogue, Qu said.

Built in 1921, the synagogue could hold 800 worshipers. It used to be an important place of the Jew's religious, cultural and community life in Harbin, and now becomes the holy place for visit from the Jewish people who had lived in this northeast China city and from the descendants of them, said Qu.

For quite a long time, the Jewish people were under discriminations and persecution, and especially during the World War II period, about 6 million were murdered, said Former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.

He highly commented the local government's protection and renovation of the Jewish historical sites, saying that what the Chinese government have done, including this exhibition, is a respect toward the Jewish nationality and their history and culture.

Barshefsky said few people knew the stories between the Chinese and Jewish people, but they should be known to the world.

Ben Cannan was the first Jew that settled down in Harbin in the 21st century. Now he is a foreign expert and professor with Heilongjiang University and also is engaged in editing work at the provincial TV station. The professor was quite excited at the exhibition.

"This exhibition is well designed and I thank you for renovating this synagogue and holding such a wonderful exhibition here," he said.

"I feel proud of Harbin City," said Cannan.

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