First Lady Tours Synagogue In China Hillary Rodham Clinton

SHANGHAI, China (AllPolitics, July 1, 1998) -- U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton continued preaching the U.S. message of greater religious freedom in China Tuesday as she visited a restored synagogue.

Mrs. Clinton toured the 78-year-old Ohel Rachel Synagogue for 20 minutes and witnessed the donation of a Torah to Shanghai's Jewish community.

"So for this to be restored, I think is a very good example of respect for religious differences and appreciation for the importance of faith in one's life," she said.

But China's atheist government has not given permission for the building to be used as a place of worship. The building, used as warehouse until two months ago, cost $60,000 to restore.

During World War II, the city was a haven for some 20,000 Jews who sought refuge from Hitler's Germany. During her visit, Mrs. Clinton looked at a photographic exhibition detailing the Jewish community's history in Shanghai.

The Torah was donated by the Park East Synagogue in New York City and brought by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who visited China earlier this year as part of a U.S. religious delegation. Shanghai Mayor Xu Kuangdi promised Schneier during his previous visit that he would reopen the synagogue as a historic site.

About 200 Jews now live in Shanghai, said Albert Sasson, a Jew whose family has lived here since the 1840s. Clinton's visit shows that Chinese authorities are "willing to try harder to make things workable for everybody," he said.

Sasson said he hopes the government will approve using the synagogue for religious holidays. It was last used in 1952, three years after Communists came to power in China.

Mrs. Clinton has been busy during her husband's state visit to China, mainly promoting religious freedom and women's rights.

"Since I've been here, I have heard the expression, 'women hold up half the sky' ... Women can't hold up half the sky if they are denied the freedom to plan their own families," the first lady said during a roundtable discussion Tuesday.

In China, women are often allowed to have only one child and there are still reports of forced abortion.

It has been a sentimental journey for Mrs. Clinton, who brought her daughter Chelsea and her mother, Dorothy Rodham, on the trip. Her friends say she remains committed to her family and the social issues she is promoting on this trip but irritation with her public life occasionally surfaces.

"I often refer to my life before the White House as when I was a real person, because when you are in a position like this, people, particularly all of those people with their pencils and their cameras try to record everything you do and when they try to put meaning into it, whether you intend the meaning or not," she said during the roundtable event.
The Associated Press and CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report

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