Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”). .
(photo credit: COURTESY OF SHAVEI ISRAEL)
Five women in their twenties from the ancient Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng are due to make aliya in late February in what will mark the first aliya of its kind in nearly seven years.
The women - Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”) - plan to pursue Jewish studies (which they have been studying in Kaifeng) at Jerusalem's Midreshet Nishmat upon arrival. They will be supported by the Shavei Israel organization, which will cover their living expenses and offer support as they undergo a formal conversion process by the Chief Rabbinate - after which they will receive Israeli citizenship.
“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, the non-profit responsible for bringing the girls to Israel. “After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Kaifeng Jews in recent years have begun seeking to return to their roots and embrace their Jewish identity,” he added.
“Being part of the Jewish people is an honor, because of the heritage and wisdom,” said Li Jing. “Now, my prayer has been answered,” Ling said of her impending aliya.
Upon arrival, the girls are to be escorted by Freund to the Western Wall for prayer. “These five young women are determined to rejoin the Jewish people and become proud citizens of the Jewish State, and we are delighted to help them realize their dreams,” he said.
The last time a group of Kaifeng Jews made aliya was in 2009, when Shavei Israel assisted seven young men in their journey from China to Israel, the organization said.
The Kaifeng Jewish community was founded by Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants around the 8th century. The community peaked during the Ming Dynasty with 5,000 members. Yet widespread intermarriage and assimilation brought about their demise by the early 19th century; Today only 500-1000 are believed to be remaining.