In the first Aliyah from the ancient Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng in the last seven years, five women from the community are scheduled to arrive in Israel next Monday, returning to the Jewish homeland after thousands of years of exile.
The women, Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”), have been intensively studying Hebrew and Judaism for the last several years in Kaifeng to reconnect to their Jewish roots, and are now being brought back home by the Jerusalem-based nonprofit Shavei Israel.
They will be greeted at the airport by Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund and brought directly to the Western Wall (Kotel) to thank God for their miraculous return to Israel. The five can be seen introducing themselves and saying "we love you Israel" in Hebrew in the video below.
"Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people," said Freund, who after several years of struggling with Israeli bureaucracy managed to obtain the required permission to bring the five Chinese Jews on Aliyah.
"After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Kaifeng Jews in recent years have begun seeking to return to their roots and embrace their Jewish identity. These five young women are determined to rejoin the Jewish people and become proud citizens of the Jewish state, and we are delighted to help them realize their dreams."
Li Jing, who in a previous brief visit to Israel put a note of prayer in the Kotel asking to return and live in Israel, said, "being part of the Jewish people is an honor, because of the heritage and wisdom. Now, my prayer has been answered."
After arriving in Israel, the five women plan to continue their Jewish studies at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Nishmat – The Jeanie Schottenstein Center For Advanced Torah Study For Women, with the support of Shavei Israel, which will also cover their living expenses and support them as they prepare to undergo formal conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. After completing the conversion process, they will receive Israeli citizenship.
The last time Shavei Israel managed to bring Chinese Jews back from Kaifeng on Ailyah came in October 2009, when seven young men returned home.
The Kaifeng Jewish community is thought to have been founded by Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants who went east in the 8th or 9th century CE.
Back in 1163 CE the community built a large and beautiful synagogue that was renovated over the years. The community may have numbered as many as 5,000 people during its peak in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), but intermarriage and assimilation, together with the death of the community's last rabbi, led to the end of the community in the early 19th century CE.
Now, the community claims 500 to 1,000 members who are increasingly returning to their Jewish roots despite the pressure to assimilate.