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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong’

Moshe Rabbeinu Lego: A Hong Kong Pesach Special

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

In Hong Kong, there are certainly some inconveniences involved in finding every last product necessary to recreate the Pesach we had in New York. But, we have found it is merely a matter of mastering logistics and advance planning. Sometimes it involves finding shlepers coming in from the States willing to take a few bulky boxes of tasteless Crispy O’s and Streits Brownie Mix in an extra suitcase. This is all part of the Hong Kong festival ritual.

Communal Sedarim here are not cold, lonely events for a few lone wanders. We are all strangers in a strange land and participation in communal Sedarim are part of our new Easterly landscape. Living far from our extended family, counter-intuitively we find that our Seder tables do not get smaller here, but exponentially grow and expand with friends from around the world with unique foods and tunes of their own to share. Around the table reading the Haggadah there are Americans, British, French, Yemenites, Israelis, Swiss, Belgians and Indians. It is a time to create original family traditions that blend the old with the new, the West with the East.

For our family, it is also time to take out the Moshe Rabbeinu Lego. This is not part of the latest Adventurers Egypt Set. It is an entirely original product of our own “wandering” through the Far East for eight years. One of the incidental advantages of raising Jewish children in the Far East is the relative absence of Christian culture and symbolism. A couple of years back, my father-in-law brought us a mixed box of old Legos that his neighbor had given him. My children eagerly poured through it, sifting though random bits of Lego past when my then six-year old daughter exclaimed that she had found the most special piece of Lego ever, a Moshe Rabbeinu. She clutched it in her hand and ran into her room to hide her precious find from her brothers. For days, she would barricade her door and only take Moshe Rabbeinu out when she was certain it was safe. All we heard about was this Moshe Rabbeinu figurine.

My pragmatic seven-year old, a naysayer from the start, was insistent that there was no such thing as a Moshe Rabbeinu Lego piece. To backup his declaration, he did a Google search followed by a detailed study of the Lego website. He needed final proof and he burst into her room, tackling her to the ground, prying the figure from her hands.

Quickly responding to break up the fight and to finally see said Moshe Rabbeinu for myself, I find my son on the floor in a fit of hysterics that has brought him to tears. For a moment, I am uncertain whether he is actually crying or laughing. Barely able to catch his breath and speak through his hysterics, he yells out, “It’s not Moshe Rabbeinu. It’s Santa Claus!”

In tears, my daughter cries out, “Santa Claus? I don’t even know who that is. It is Moshe Rabbeinu! Right Mommy? See. He’s got the long white beard.” She recovers the red suited, wide black-belted, white bearded figure and holds him up for my inspection.

She is six and has never heard of Santa Claus! The Easter Bunny doesn’t exist in her consciousness. A Christmas tree or a red wreath in a shopping mall would most likely go unnoticed or be summarily categorized as early Chinese New Year decorations in her head.

I carefully examine the figure and respond to her, “Without the packaging, I can’t be 100% certain. You could be right.”

My sev en-year old, now frustrated, cries out, “This is ridiculous. Why would Moshe Rabbeinu wear a red snow suit?”

With uninhibited faith she immediately responds, “Duh. The desert is very cold at night.”

I know that soon, even here, without the Charlie Brown specials, colorful televised parades and watered-down quasi-religious public school classroom “holiday” celebrations, she will learn what the Easter Bunny is and know what a Christmas tree is. But for now, I can continue to raise her in a Jewish bubble, eating kosher l’Pesach egg noodles with chopsticks.

Erica Lyons, a Hong Kong-based freelance writer and editor, is the founder of Asian Jewish Life- a journal of spirit, society and culture for and about Jews in the Far East. She welcomes comments at erica@asianjewishlife.org

The Chabad Cookbook – The Most Prized in My Collection

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I collect cookbooks the way other people collect coins, shot glasses, or miniature teaspoons. I began my cookbook collection a few weeks before our wedding, and today, I know it intimately. I know in which book to find which recipe, which book has the best pictures, and even which one lays flat when opened, making it easier to read while cooking.

I can also tell you which book is my favorite, which was my first purchase, and which I use most often. My Spice and Sprit; the Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook by the ladies of the Lubavitch community, probably known better by its semi-official title, “The Purple Book”, holds pride of place in my collection. Not only was it my first cookbook, but it is also highly esteemed, because its older, yellow version was my mother’s first cookbook. The yellow cookbook kept my mother’s already kosher kitchen “heimische” no matter where in the world we were living.

The book has accompanied me on a veritable cooking odyssey, from spicy cheese lasagne to summer fruit soup. At other times, it has led me through the details of rolling knish dough and kneading challah. I have traveled to China with lemon chicken and South America with empanadas. I once asked my mother if the Lubavitch women had collected their recipes from all the different Chabad houses around the globe. My mom said she wouldn’t have been surprised, though she couldn’t possibly imagine which national cuisine had spawned “beer-batter-covered deep fried meatballs.” The Purple cookbook is a highly recommended addition to any cook’s reference library, from novice to Michelin-starred chef.

My early childhood was spent in Caracas. The Chabad House in Caracas was like a second home to me. It was a fun-filled place to go on a Sunday morning. My mother would teach arts and crafts in the back room, my brothers would run in and out of rooms teasing each other and anyone else who came past them. While the younger kids were busy making cardboard marionettes or yarn pompoms, the older ones played educational games or learned Torah with the Chabad emissaries. On one memorable rainy Sunday, a young Chabad emissary taught us South American kids how to play his new American game, “Twister”. I can still remember us as young kids, hopelessly tangled, with the young Chabadnik laughing along with us.

The summers in Caracas were spent traveling back and forth on the school bus to Chabad Camp. At camp, my brothers were three-star generals and I was a cadet. These were our ranks in the Tzivos Hashem or “G-d’s Army” (please don’t think for a second that there were any militant over- or undertones to any of this). Our ranks were determined by how many good deeds we had done.

On one memorable outing, my brothers made up a song concerning me, and to this day – 30 years later − anyone on the bus that day can remember the Ilana song, word for word. Let me just say that Ilana and banana rhyme perfectly in any language. I believe that for creating that song alone, they should have been stripped of their stars.

A few years later, my parents took the show on the road again; this time to Hong Kong, where the Chabad emissaries made every Jew who came to town – whether transient or permanent – feel welcome. In this outpost, so far from the communities in which most of us grew up, the welcome was a wonderful surprise. Lubavitch in the Far East (“LIFE”) made Judaism as accessible to the traveler or resident as chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant. Yet again, the tremendous energy that the Chabad emissaries bring to their jobs has never failed to impress me.

The loss of any life is to be mourned; yet, G-d is kind to us. He lets us feel only the closest of deaths with heartbreak, with complete sadness. But a death within the Chabad community, a community that for years has seen their charter as offering Judaism in every corner of the globe, affects us all. Orthodox or secular, traveler or resident, the Chabad representatives who venture out into the world are not missionaries. They are emissaries.

A missionary is a persuader. His job is to convince you that his way is correct, and that what you have been doing until now is incorrect. An emissary is an ambassador whose job is to represent his boss; be it a country, an organization or a religion. With diplomacy, he offers another point of view. Chabad’s job is to teach that Judaism is not only possible wherever you may find yourself − it is desirable.

I can’t comment on global terrorism, or the age-old question of why good people suffer. I don’t know how the Lubavitch community will deal with the tremendous loss their family; their community has suffered in the last week. For my part I’ll bake. It’s the only way I know how to deal with any crisis. Whether stressed or sad, I have one surefire coping mechanism. The more I “potchker” with my food, the more time I spend on a particular recipe, the closer I feel to G-d – as if by creating puff pastry from scratch, I can hold on, even for a millisecond, to some ever-fleeting godliness.

This week, you can be sure that I will be using my Chabad cookbook for inspiration. Perhaps the baking will help me find the strength to cross the chasm of despair into faith. When we lose something, we each find a way to make it better in our own minds.

This coming week, find a way to commune with G-d. Light Shabbat candles, do good deeds, put on tefillin. That is what the people in Chabad recommend. For my part, I will bake.

May we only hear good tidings about our families and brethren around the world. May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Cauliflower Kugel – Adapted from Spice and Sprit, The complete kosher Jewish cookbook:

In recent years kugels have gone the way of the Crepes Suzette, and Cornish hens. I would like to make the case for this kugel; it is not only low in fat, it is jam packed with vegetables. The original recipe calls for a corn flake crumb crust I prefer a little Mediterranean touch with the pine nuts, but that is totally your call.

2 small heads cauliflower, cut into florets1 large onion chopped (about 1

Review: The Jews Of Kaifeng, China ? History, Culture, and Religion

Friday, October 10th, 2003

Title: The Jews Of Kaifeng, China – History, Culture, and Religion
Author: Xu Xin (pronounced ‘Chu-Chin’),
Publisher: Ktav Publishing,
Jersey City, NJ

My cousin Phil, of Los Angeles, once told me – what I consider an apocryphal story – that during the Korean War, when he was stationed in Hong Kong, he was seeking a synagogue for Friday evening services and was told to go to a small shul atop a hill.

Sure enough he found it - the door was open and the lights were lit and inviting - so he entered and found himself alone. He seated himself, and before long a congregation of men came and all took their positions - the Rabbi, the Chazan, the congregants, and all began davening. My cousin’s jaw dropped – every other person in the shul was an ethnic Chinese, and they were all davening in Hebrew, exactly as in his own synagogue back home.

All the while, one elderly congregant was intently staring at my cousin, and after services, when everyone queued up to have their hand shaken by the Rabbi, this man came over to Phil and asked in perfect Yiddish: “Are you Jewish?”

My cousin replied: “Of course I’m Jewish – didn’t you see me daven together with everyone else?”

To which the old gentleman replied: “Funny – you don’t look Jewish.”

This story captures the essence of this book, which is a scholarly work of research written by a Chinese scholar of ethnography, was researched and written in New York and Cambridge, Mass., courtesy of a grant from The Simon and Helen Scheuer Family Foundation. Ktav publishing house, which has been formerly renowned for their publication of Jewish children’s literature, has, of recent, gone far afield with their publication of many important new titles for adult consumption.

It has been known for many years that Jews settled in parts of China, quite ‘off the beaten path.’ The Polos – Marco and family – alluded to them, and many Christian missionaries, including Jesuits, who were well versed at languages, encountered Jewish communities during their travels.

A famous Nobel Prize winning American author - Pearl Buck – herself the daughter of American missionaries in China, wrote ‘Peony,’ in 1948 (republished as a Bloch/Biblio Press book in 1990), a novel about Jewish life in Kaifeng, which is in the Chinese province of Honan. Ms. Buck’s characters, while Jews, are all ethnic Chinese, as are the people about whom Prof. Xin, of Nanjing University, has written.

From about the ninth century c.e. there has been an indigenous Jewish community almost continuously resident in Kaifeng in northeastern China, as well as other Jewish communities in other places from time to time. Separated as they were by thousands of miles from the rest of the Jewish world and largely cut off from contact with the main centers of Jewish life, the Jews of Kaifeng developed a distinctive culture that was unquestionably Jewish but progressively absorbed Chinese elements.

As our American experience has also shown, their greatest problem was not separation from other Jews, so much as the openness and tolerance of the greater Chinese society. Intermarriage was a frequent occurrence and Jews entered Chinese society will full acceptance as merchants, government officials and neighbors. After a period of time they were so completely assimilated that few of their descendents carry any memory of Jewish ancestry and have assumed the physical appearance of all other ethnic Chinese.

This is a fascinating look into the past, very well researched, that sheds much light on what may have happened to some of the members of our ‘Lost Tribes.’ We would also encourage the inquisitive reader to obtain a copy of Pearl Buck’s ‘Peony,’ to further explore our Jewish heritage among one of the world’s oldest cultures.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/review-the-jews-of-kaifeng-china-history-culture-and-religion/2003/10/10/

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