In a joyous ceremony held at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue Thursday night, a descendant of the once-flourishing Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, was married under the hupah (wedding canopy) to a recent immigrant from the United States.
Shoshana Rebecca Li, 29, made Aliyah [immigrated to Israel] two years ago from China, and recently underwent formal conversion by Israel's Chief Rabbinate. "For me, to have a proper religious Jewish wedding in Israel, it is a dream come true. I am very excited," Li said prior to the ceremony. "I was raised knowing that I am a Jew and I made Aliyah because of our tradition."
Li's husband, Ami Emmanuel, 25, arrived in Israel two years ago from Florida after studying film and directing. “No one in the world is as happy as I am," said Emmanuel. "I thought it impossible to marry a Jewish woman from China. However, it seems miracles do happen, and this is the biggest miracle of my life.”
The newlywed couple plan to make their home on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel's Aravah region, north of Eilat.
More than 150 friends and relatives took part in the wedding festivities, which were organized by Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. The Shavei Israel organization, which helped arrange Shoshana's Aliyah, assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. "This wedding symbolizes the beginning of the return of the remnants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel," Freund said.
Jews first settled in Kaifeng, China, over 1,000 years ago when it was an important stop along the Silk Route. The community flourished, and numbered as many as 5,000 people during the Middle Ages. After the last rabbi of Kaifeng died in the first half of the 19th century, assimilation and intermarriage took their toll, eventually leading to the collapse of the community. Nonetheless, around 700 to 1,000 Jewish descendants still live today in Kaifeng, and many of them are seeking to reclaim their Jewish identity
"150 years after the Kaifeng Jewish community essentially ceased to exist," Freund said, "a wonderful young woman descended from that community is getting married to a new immigrant from the United States under a Jewish wedding canopy in Jerusalem. I cannot think of a more poignant example of kibbutz galuyot – the Ingathering of the Exiles."
Based in Jerusalem, Shavei Israel works with various groups around the world that have a historical connection with the Jewish people. These include the Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, who claim descent from a lost tribe of Israel, the Bnai Anousim ("Marranos") of Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, and the "Hidden Jews" of Poland from the time of the Holocaust. The organization also assists with the absorption of new immigrants in Israel, including providing assistance with housing, employment, and professional training. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.