Battlepanda: The Jews of Kaifeng


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Jews of Kaifeng

Thanks to Brock for reminding's time to reveal the big fat porky pie in the four plus one things about me meme. Let's review...

1) I used to take my miniature schnauzer, Dodo, to class with me during my college days. Most professors were pretty tolerant about it since their lectures usually put her to sleep within minutes.

True. I only wish they gave her a diploma. She sat through all the classes!

2) I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a self-sufficient homesteader during my early teen years. I read as many books on the subject as I could while turning our family's back yard into an experimental plot where I grew herbs, tomatoes, and other assorted veggies. I composted and unsuccessfully tried to start a worm farm.

True. I am still obsessed with having my own veggie garden and a few chickens one day. But I no longer entertain the possibility of cutting myself off from the rest of civilization.

3) My absent-mindedness is legendary. On holiday once in Italy, I jumped off a boat with all my clothes on because I forgot I have not yet changed into my swimsuit.

Unfortunately, true.

4) In my spare time, I like to write Country & Western songs with titles such as "Another West Texas Town" and "It Ain't Right."

True, and one day I might even finish them.

5) I am partially of Jewish ancestry. My maternal grandmother's family hailed from a small community of Jews migrated and persisted for centuries in Kaifeng, China. She did not self-identify as a Jew by any means, but she never ate pork and is proud of the fact that she was spared from footbinding due to her family's different traditions.

False. Did you guess?

Well, not that many of you actually guessed so I don't know if I managed to fool people. I hope I put one over at least a few of you.

Like most lies that aspire to be non-transparent, this one was based partially on the truth. There was a Jewish population in Kaifeng, near where my grandmother was born. Although there has been a resurgence of interest in their heritage in recent years, the descendents of the Jewish population in Kaifeng have largely not maintained their ties with the Jewish culture or religion. They look Chinese, of course, just as the Ethiopian jews look Ethiopian and Russian jews look Russian.

My grandmother's story is just as interesting in its own way. She came from a Christian family and her father was a missionary. This is why her feet were never bound. I wish I had asked her more about her family's history and her experiences during the war, but she mostly remain tight-lipped. I don't know, among other things, when and how her family was converted to Christianity or how she came to know my grandfather or any of a host of questions. Now that she's gone, I guess I won't have the chance to find out short of some kind of major genealogical effort.

Now, Brock's turn...