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Daily Israel Report

Shanghai Synagogue Reopens for World Expo

Chinese officials and diplomats from around the globe joined with Jews to celebrate the reopening of the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in Shanghai.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 5/11/2010, 10:31 AM / Last Update: 5/11/2010, 10:43 AM

courtesy of World Monuments Fund

A delegation of Chinese officials and diplomats from countries around the globe joined with Jews in Shanghai on the eve of the Sabbath to celebrate the reopening of the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in Shanghai. The Friday afternoon ceremony, held in honor of the 2010 World Expo, came on the heels of a two-week long renovation project that was paid for by the Jewish community.

Israel was the first nation to officially open its national pavilion at the 2010 World Expo earlier this week.

At present, the synagogue building also houses the Shanghai Education Ministry and is open to Jews for prayer services only sporadically throughout the year, primarily on Jewish holidays. However, the Chinese authorities have agreed to continued communal use of the building at least through the summer, in honor of the Expo, according to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shalom Greenberg. As a result, the Jewish community will be allowed to pray the Sabbath services on Friday evening and Saturday mornings at the synagogue.

Greenberg, director of Chabad's Shanghai Jewish Center, told Chabad.org, “We all wish to extend our appreciation to the Chinese government for this tremendous gesture.”

The Jewish house of worship was built in 1920 to serve the religious needs of Jews who had immigrated to the Chinese port city from Baghdad. Within the massive structure, 30 Torah scrolls await the eyes of the Jewish community. They haven't seen regular use since the 1950s. “It is truly special that this beautiful synagogue will be in regular use after having been idle for so long,” Greenberg said.

In 1998, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton visited the synagogue to raise awareness of its history. One year later, the Jewish community, comprised mostly of international expatriates, diplomats, tourists and business travelers, began celebrating Jewish holidays at the synagogue as well.