JTA NEWS
1 April 2020 - 8 Nisan 5780 - ח' ניסן ה' אלפים תש"פ
JTA NEWS :
Professor Dan Ben-Canaan provides fascinating insights into the Jews of Harbin E-mail

Professor Dan Ben-Canaan, one of the world’s most respected authorities on the history of the Jews of Harbin, China, gave two separate lectures to the Hong Kong Jewish community on 29 May.

Members of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong listened to a presentation titled: A General Introduction to the History of the Jews of Harbin, and the Effort to Preserve This History, and later in the evening, the Jewish Historical Society of Hong Kong organised a talk titled: Engineering History – The Reconstruction of the Harbin Old Synagogue: A Case Study in Interpreting and Engineering a Past.

Professor Ben-Canaan, who was on his first visit to Hong Kong, was proud to point out that he is “currently the only residing Jew in Harbin today”. He feels he is the gatekeeper of a Jewish legacy and the past. His curiosity and force took him there, he commented to Jewish Times Asia.

Professor Ben-Canaan explained that Harbin was originally a Russian city but became part of China. A Manchurian fishing village in the 19th century, Harbin was made up of around five small villages in the province of Heilongjiang. At that time the area was rich in many natural resources, including gold and poppy seeds, and was China’s main centre for opium exports. Harbin was ideally placed to facilitate trade between China and Russia and for exports around the world. A significant town was developed thanks to the building of a major train route.

The first Jewish resident was a Russian engineer. Other wealthy Russian Jews followed, and by around 1910 around 25,000 Jewish families were living in Harbin. A strong infrastructure was developed including synagogues, Jewish schools, hospitals, an old-age home and a Jewish cemetery.

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