(L-R) Li Yuan, Yue Ting, Gao Yichen, Li Jing and Li Chengjin. (Tuvia Gering)

For the first time in nearly seven years, five twenty-something women from the ancient Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng are set to arrive in Israel next Monday, to fulfill their dream of making Aliyah, with the help of Jerusalem-based nonprofit Shavei Israel.

The women — Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”) have been studying Hebrew and Judaism intensively for several years in Kaifeng. Upon arrival in Israel, they will be greeted by Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who will take them straight from Ben Gurion Airport to the Western Wall, to thank God for helping them return to the land of their ancient ancestors.

Believed to have been founded by Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants in the 8th or 9th century, Kaifeng’s Jewish community built a large and beautiful synagogue in 1163, which was renovated through the years. At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Kaifeng Jewish community may have numbered up to 5,000 people. But widespread intermarriage and assimilation, and the death of the community’s last rabbi, brought about its demise by the early 19th century. Today the community claims between 500 and 1,000 members.

Despite the pressure to assimilate, many of the Kaifeng Jews have sought to preserve their Jewish identity and pass it down to their descendants, who continue to observe Jewish customs. Today the community is experiencing a revived interest in its roots, and Shavei Israel has been providing support while helping some immigrate to Israel.

“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” said Freund, who succeeded in obtaining the requisite permission to bring the Chinese Jews on Aliyah after several years of negotiations with Israeli bureaucracy. “After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Kaifeng Jews in recent years have begun seeking to return to their roots and to embrace their Jewish identity,” Freund said, adding that “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.”

“Being part of the Jewish people is an honor, because of the heritage and wisdom,” said Li Jing, who on a brief previous visit put a note in the Kotel asking to return and live in Israel. “Now, my prayer has been answered,” she said.

The last time Shavei Israel was able to bring a group of Chinese Jews from Kaifeng on Aliyah was in October 2009, when seven young men from the community arrived in the Jewish state.

The five women plan to continue their Jewish studies at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Nishmat – The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, with the support of Shavei Israel, which will also cover their living expenses and support them as they prepare to undergo formal conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Upon completion of the conversion process, they will receive Israeli citizenship.

By: JNi.Media