For the first time, a group of seven descendants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China has moved to Israel.The new arrivals, who were brought here by the Shavei Israel organization, arrived at Ben-Gurion airport late Tuesday night.
The city of their birth, Kaifeng, sits on the banks of the Yellow River and was home to a flourishing Jewish community for more than a millennium.
"I am very excited to be here in the Holy Land," said Yaakov Wang, one of the new immigrants. "This is something that my ancestors dreamed about for generations, and now thank G-d I have finally made it."
Wang said that he eventually hopes to become a rabbi, so that one day he can help other Kaifeng Jewish descendants to learn more about their heritage.
"We received special permits from the Interior Ministry to bring them here for a year on tourist visas, during which time they will prepare for conversion. Once they complete the conversion, they will then receive Israeli citizenship and be considered new olim," Shavei Israel chairman Michael Freund told Israel National News. "The group will be staying at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, near Beit Shean, where they will study in the Hebrew ulpan."
From the airport, the group went straight to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where they recited the "Shehecheyanu" blessing, and then burst into a chorus of traditional Hebrew songs.
"It took us more than two years to get the requisite permits from Israel's Interior Ministry to bring them over, but it was worth the wait," said Freund. "This is an historic event," he said, adding that, "Kaifeng's Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people, and it is very moving to see the remnants of this community returning to their roots".
At its peak, during the Middle Ages, 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 city's Jewish community. In recent years, a growing number have begun to express an interest in studying Jewish history and culture.