Five young women from the ancient Chinese-Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, completed their conversions to Judaism on Tuesday, in an emotional ceremony in Jerusalem.
Two years after Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), 25, Yue Ting, 27, Li Jing, 30, Li Yuan, 29, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”), 30, made Aliya in February 2016 via the Jerusalem-based NGO Shavei Israel, the five completed the conversion process at the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court on Tuesday.
All five were born and raised in Kaifeng, a city in the central Chinese province of Henan located southwest of Beijing, and are descendants of the once-thriving Jewish community that resided there for over a millennium.
With the help of Shavei Israel, the five young women studied at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Nishmat – the Jeannie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women.
“The Chinese Jews of Kaifeng are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund.
An American-born immigrant to Israel, Freund founded Shavei Israel with the goal of strengthening the bonds between Israel and communities across the Diaspora. The group has reached out to a number of what have been dubbed “Lost Jewish communities” – Jews who were either compelled to convert to other faiths or were isolated and assimilated. Shavei Israel has aided members of groups like the “Bnei Menashe” community in India to study Judaism, move to Israel, and convert back to Judaism.
“After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Chinese-Jewish descendants are returning to their roots and embracing their Jewish identity,” Freund said. “These five young women were determined to rejoin the Jewish people and we were delighted to help them realize their dreams.”
In recent years, Shavei Israel has helped nearly two dozen Chinese Jews to make Aliyah.
“Being part of the Jewish people is an honor, because of the heritage and wisdom,” said Li Jing, who studied economics and global commerce in China. “My prayer to return to Judaism has been answered.”
“Israel is where our ancestors lived, and my father always told me that one day we would come back,” said Yue Ting, who is fluent in both English and Hebrew. “Every one of us is put in this world to contribute and to make a difference, each in our own way. I will try my best to do everything I can, no matter how small it seems, just to do something good. I feel very proud to be a Jew and to call Israel my home.”