How Wen-Jing Became “Shalva”: Chinese Jewish Descendant Returns to Judaism

For the first time, a descendant of the once-vibrant Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, has undergone conversion in Israel and formally returned to Judaism. This past Sunday, Jin Wen-Jing, an 18-year-old student at the Yemin Orde youth village, went before a Haifa conversion court under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. After administering an oral examination aimedat assessing her commitment to Judaism as well as her knowledge of Jewish law and tradition,the three rabbis comprising the Beit Din informed Wen-Jing that they had decided to accept her as a Jew.

Speaking in fluent Hebrew, Wen-Jing was quick to express her joy, and relief, at the court’s decision. “I was very nervous, but now I am very happy,” she said. “This has always been my family’s dream – to return to our roots.” Wen-Jing arrived in Israel four years ago with her parents. Her father, Jin Guang-Yuan, who now goes by the name Shlomo, is a direct descendant of the Jewish community that existed for nearly a thousand years in the city of Kaifeng, which lies north of Beijing, on the south bank of the Yellow River. At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty, Kaifeng Jewry numbered about 5,000 people. But widespread intermarriage and assimilation, as well as the death of the community’s last rabbi, brought about its demise by the middle of the 19th century. Scholars say there are still hundreds of people in Kaifeng who cling to their identity as descendants of the town’s Jewish community.

Wen-Jing’s father still carries with him a copy of his internal Chinese identification card, which lists his nationality as “Youtai,” or Jew. He and his wife hope to follow in their daughter’s footsteps and undergo conversion soon. Since her arrival in Israel, Wen-Jing has been studying at Yemin Orde under the guidance of the youth village’s director, Dr. Chaim Peri, as well Rabbi Zev Rubens, an educator who oversees the school’s conversion program, both of whom accompanied her to the beit din. She has decided to adopt the name Shalva (serenity), which is the Hebrew translation of her Chinese given name. Currently in the midst of her matriculation exams, Wen-Jing will shortly enter the National Service (Sherut Leumi) program for religious girls, and will perform her national service at Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

Why did she decide to convert? “G-d chose the Jewish people to be His nation, and I wantedto be a part of it,” said Wen-Jing, smiling. “G-d has performed many miracles for Israel,” she said, adding, “The fact that I have come here from China, and made it all the way here, back to my people – that too is a miracle.”

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