Chinese girl finds love on kibbutz

Ulpan romance ends up under huppa at Great Synagogue.

kaifeng wedding 224.88 (photo credit:  Courtesy of "Shavei Israel")
kaifeng wedding 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of "Shavei Israel")
It was a case of East meets West in the Middle East Thursday night when Shoshana Rebecca Li, a descendant of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, married Ami Emmanuel, a new immigrant from Florida, at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue. "For me, to have a proper religious Jewish wedding in Israel, it is a dream come true. I am very excited," Li, 29, said prior to the ceremony. Emmanuel, 25, said he never believed he'd marry an Asian woman until he met Li at Kibbutz Sde Eliahu's Hebrew ulpan in May. "I had heard about the old Jewish community of China and I love Asian women, but I thought it was far-fetched. I also thought that even if I had found a Jewish Chinese woman, the rabbinate would have never approved," he said. Li made aliya two and a half years ago, and recently completed her conversion back to Judaism with the Chief Rabbinate. "I came to Israel because I am a Jew," she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday while she was getting ready for the wedding. "I was raised knowing that I am a Jew and I made aliya because of our tradition." The groom emigrated from Florida two years ago, after studying film. Jews first settled in Kaifeng more than a thousand years ago, when it was an important stop on the Silk Route from China to the Mediterranean Sea. The community flourished, and numbered as many as 5,000 during the Middle Ages. But the city's last rabbi died in the first half of the 19th century, and assimilation and intermarriage eventually led to the collapse of the community. Nowadays, around 700 descendants of Jews live in Kaifeng and many of them are seeking to reclaim their Jewish identity. "When I started studying Hebrew at the ulpan I saw Shoshana and I thought to myself that it was nice that Chinese people come to study the language. I didn't even think that she was a Jew," Emmanuel said. "After a while I asked her if she would like to spend some more time together and she said that we could try." More than 150 friends and relatives, including some from the Kaifeng Jewish community, attended the wedding, which was organized by Michael Freund, the chairman and the founder of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that helps "lost Jews" return to the Jewish people. "This wedding symbolizes the beginning of the return of the remnants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel," Freund said. "I cannot think of a more poignant example of kibbutz galuyot - the ingathering of the exiles." Though Emmanuel's father was the only one of the couple's parents able to attend the wedding, they were content. "I haven't met my father- and mother-in-law yet, but hopefully we will meet in the future," Emmanuel said. The newlyweds plan to live at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava. "No one in the world is as happy as I am. I thought it was impossible to marry a Jewish woman from China. However, it seems miracles do happen, and this is the biggest miracle of my life," the groom said.