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From Kaifeng to Beit Hatfutsot


A ceramic tile from the roof of the Kaifeng Synagogue that ceased to exist in the 19th century has been given as a gift to Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People

At an official ceremony held on November 14, 2012, a blue ceramic tile was handed to Beit Hatfutsot. The tile was part of the roof of a synagogue in Kaifeng, China that ceased to exist during the 19th century.  Beit Hatfutsot displays a model of this synagogue in its permanent exhibition.

This special tile was delivered by Dr. Wendy Abraham, an American scholar of China, to Moti Schwartz, Acting Director of Beit Hatfutsot. "There is no question that this unique tile and the story that goes with it, have come to the right place.  The exhibits at Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, display the amazing story and heritage of a people that dispersed throughout the world and still managed to preserve its culture and heritage."  He added, "Beit Hatfutsot is amidst change and imminent upgrading, and in the new permanent exhibit planned to open in 2014, we will be able to present the story, not just retell it, but enhance it with authentic items and objects, like the tile we received today. This tile will assume its rightful place in the new exhibit," Moti Schwartz concluded upon receiving the archaeological find from Dr. Abraham.

Dr. Wendy Abraham, who came to Beit Hatfutsot accompanied by an academic colleague, Noam Orbach, currently a doctoral candidate at Bar Ilan University, reported with emotion, that the tile, whose color has somewhat faded, was bequeathed to her by the former curator of the Kaifeng Museum for research purposes by western scholars, and was given to her during a visit to China in 1997. Dr. Abraham recounted her previous visit to China in 1985 when she interviewed the descendants of the last Jews of Kaifeng. She revealed the hardships she experienced subsequent to meeting with people who were not supposed to be identified as Jews in a harsh, Communist regime: Dr. Abraham spoke about how moved she was by this moment at Beit Hatfutsot and how important it was to her to deliver the tile that has been with her for over 15 years to a Jewish institution in Israel that deals with preserving the heritage of the Jewish people. According to Dr. Abraham, Beit Hatfutsot is unquestionably the right place for it. In her remarks Dr. Abraham noted that items from the synagogue are exhibited at the Royal Museum in Toronto and preservation centers in Kaifeng.

The synagogue in Kaifeng, capital of China during the Northern Song dynasty, was first built in 1163 by Jews who had arrived in China via the Silk Road, apparently from Persia or India. The synagogue was destroyed twice following flooding of the city by the Yellow River. In the 17th century, it was restored, but by the end of the 19th century it had fallen into disrepair and little by little the remnants of the synagogue were sold to missionaries and other houses of worship in Kaifeng