Chinese Jews come home
Chinese Jews come homeLaura Ben-David

Arutz Sheva was on hand late Monday morning to greet five women from the ancient Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng, as they made Aliyah to Israel and returned to their homeland after thousands of years of exile.

The five women, Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”), were aided by the Shavei Israel organization in coming home, and arrived after several years of intensive Jewish study and Hebrew study in Kaifeng.

"Weiwei" told Arutz Sheva that she learned of her Jewish identity when she was still a child, at around the age of seven, while Li Yuan said her father and grandfather taught her that "we need to come back to Israel."

According to "Weiwei," it felt like "magic" to arrive in Israel.

While at Ben-Gurion International Airport to greet the five, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund emphasized that "what we're seeing here today is Jewish history in the making."

He noted the Kaifeng Jewish community existed from about the 8th or 9th century CE, but a process of intense assimilation about 200 years ago signaled the end of the community. However, today there are about 1,000 people in Kaifeng "who are identifiable as descendants of the Jewish community via family trees," and who are largely returning to their Jewish roots.

Their Jewish ancestors were Sephardic Jews who came to China from Iraq or Persia, traveling along the Silk Route.

Freund cited the Book of Isaiah (49:12) where God speaks about the ingathering of the exiles, and noted the verse concludes by saying: "and these from the land of the Sinim," a term which in Hebrew means the Chinese. He hailed the Aliyah of the five women as a fulfillment of the prophecy.

He explained to the new immigrants that he was going to lead them to the Western Wall (Kotel) to thank God for being able to fulfill the commandment of settling the land of Israel, and also noted on the need to be thankful for the return of Jewish sovereignty.

Freund recently managed to get permission for them to come to Jerusalem to prepare for their formal conversion, so as to clarify their status and learn more about their tradition.

After arriving in Israel, the five women will 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 from Kaifeng on Aliyah was in October 2009, when seven young men from the community arrived. A total of 19 members of the Kaifeng Jewish community have been brought on Aliyah by the group, which continues to fight through bureaucracy to obtain the required permits for more to come.