By Jonathan Goldstein, Irene Clurman and Dan Ben Canaan
Harbin, China, is located 1,500 miles inland in Heilongjiang Province, a region also referred to as Manchuria. The fundamental factor that explains Jewish settlement in Harbin is the city’s status as a railroad hub, constructed in 1898 by Czarist Russia on land leased from China. It is located at a point on the Sungari, or Songhua, River where the railroad intersects with extensive river traffic. Jews developed businesses ranging from the export of furs to maritime insurance to the management of hotels. They exchanged goods and services with their kinsmen in European Russia, China, Japan, Korea, and America as well as with ethnic Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and native Siberian peoples.
By the end of the 19th century, Jews in Czarist Russia were desperate to escape the country’s poverty, pogroms and institutionalized anti-Semitism. Visas to America did not grow on trees, and Jews had trouble obtaining permits for any kind of travel, even within Russia. However, in a little known footnote to history, the Czar who plagued and reviled his Jewish subjects also offered them an out (Read more)
Harbin Old Synagogue
Jewish History of Harbin Rediscovered
This YouTube video narrated by Prof. Dan Ben-Canaan takes you on a walk through many of the Jewish sites of Harbin listed below.
Old (Main) Synagogue
Located on Tongjian Street, the synagogue was built in 1909, damaged by fire in 1931, renovated and then closed down in 1963. It was then converted into a hospital and hostel, and is currently used as a concert venue.
Located on Jingwei Street in the Daoli District, the New Synagogue was built between 1918-1921, and is now home to the Jewish Historical and Cultural Museum.
Harbin Jewish Public Library
The Jewish Public Library no longer exists, but was located in a section of the New Synagogue.
Harbin Jewish School
Attached to the Old Synagogue, the Jewish School was the first Middle School in the Far East. After restoration, it reopened as the Glasnov School of Music, a private performing arts academy.
Dr. Avraham Kaufman, leader of the Jewish community and head of the Jewish Clinic, led successful efforts to deal with massive flooding and outbreaks of cholera along the Sungari River in Harbin in the 1930s.
The Jewish Cemetery in Harbin is the largest in the Far East. Relocated from the old foreign district in 1958 to Harbin's eastern countryside, the Jewish Cemetery contains the grave of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's grandfather, J.J. Olmert, who left Russia after World War I and lived there until 1941.
Central Street - 中央大街 Zhōngyāng dàjiē)
Central Street, located in the old central district of the city, is a pedestrian-only, mile-long cobblestone street which was part of the original town built by the Russians over a century ago. It is the longest pedestrian street in China, and is replete with Jewish architectural landmarks, such as the old Jewish Bank.
Prof. Avrum Ehrlich email@example.com
Rabbi Marvin Tokayer firstname.lastname@example.org
Cantor Joy Katzen Guthrie email@example.com
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_____. Homage to Harbin
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Communities in Harbin 1899–1930," in Robert Bickers and Christian Hermich eds., New Frontiers in East Asia 1842–1953 (Manchester 2000): 88–108.
Goldstein, Jonathan. Singapore, Manila, and Harbin As Reference Points for Asian 'Port Jewish' Identity
_____. The Jews of China (M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY, 1999)
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Li, Shuxiao. Harbin history compilation, the Jews of Harbin (Harbin, 2003)
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Japanese and the Jews During World War II (Gefen Publishing House, 2004)
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_____. "The Tiny Island of Russian Jews," Jewish Communities of China (March 19, 2012)
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Jewish Historical and Cultural Museum, Harbin