Kaifeng Jews

In the early 1900s, the Sassoon family, de facto leaders of the Shanghai Jewish community, founded the Shanghai Society for the Rescue of Chinese Jews in order to reach out to the Kaifeng Jews, in hopes of helping them rediscover their Jewish roots and reconnect with their Jewish heritage.

This organisation offered to help the Kaifeng Jews move to Shanghai to become a part of the vibrant, newly established Shanghai Jewish Community. Two Jews, a father and a son, from the Li clan came to Shanghai first. They were later joined by another six Jews. They all expressed a strong desire for financial support in order to rebuild their synagogue. 

Corner of a modern Kaifeng Jew’s home.  [Nicholas Zhang Archives]

Corner of a modern Kaifeng Jew’s home. [Nicholas Zhang Archives]

S. M. Perlmann, author of the book The History of the Jews in China, recorded that eight Kaifeng Jews actually came to Shanghai early in 1913 and were shown the proper way to live a Jewish life. They visited many Jewish homes, made many trips to synagogues and watched many Jewish ceremonies. Perlmann observed that the Kaifeng Jews were of “low intellect and lacking education” but able to read the Bible “thanks to the instructions they had received in Shanghai.” He also noted that the Chinese servants in the Shanghai Jewish families were amazed by the way the Jews of Kaifeng were treated: although they were of a low social status they were treated with much respect, as if they were esteemed, high profiled guests. 

The organisation tried to teach the Kaifeng Jews to perform ritual circumcision and kosher slaughter. They also planned to provide the resources required to rebuild the synagogue following its destruction in the Qing Dynasty due to flooding. However, Japanese occupation of Shanghai and the influx of refugee from Russia and Central Europe meant the Kaifeng synagogue was no longer a priority for the Shanghai Jewish community. Attention and funds were diverted to more urgent needs.