another Jewish coup
When the World Expo 2010 opened
in Shanghai this month, the spectacular Israel pavilion created a stir
within the Jewish community. Full
Cleveland Jewish News
When the World Expo 2010 opened in Shanghai this month, the
spectacular Israel pavilion created a stir within the Jewish community.
But that is not the only Jewish building in Shanghai attracting
accolades. Much attention is being paid to the grand reopening of
Shanghai’s Ohel Rachel (House of Rachel) Synagogue, which will now be
available to the Jewish community during the Expo. Tycoon Jacob Sassoon
built the ivy-covered shul on Shaanxi Road in 1920 in memory of his wife
When the majority of the Sephardic and refugee Jews left Shanghai in the
early 1950s, the Greek Revival-style temple reverted to governmental
control. The stately building was used for the next 50 years as a
warehouse and office space for the Shanghai education ministry.
The synagogue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 6, the eve of the
six-month-long World Expo, which is expected to draw 70 million
visitors, signals the Chinese government’s recognition and respect of
the needs of the burgeoning Shanghai Jewish community. It also offers a
warm welcome to the expected 35,000 Jews who will visit the Expo.
Shanghai’s Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Shalom Greenberg (brother
of Solon’s Rabbi Zushe Greenberg), who arrived in the port city in 1998
to head the Shanghai Jewish Center, played an instrumental role in
securing the cooperation of the Chinese government for the Jewish
community. Over the past 12 years, Greenberg and his wife Dini (née
Alevsky) have reached out to the city’s 1,500 Jewish residents – the
majority of them American and French expats – and thousands of visiting
tourists and businesspeople.
Since their arrival in Shanghai, the Greenbergs were entranced by the
grand, opulent synagogue that houses 30 19th-century Torah scrolls from
Baghdad and contains gorgeous marble pillars framing the entrance to the
Ark, grand crystal chandeliers, and highly polished wooden pews.
Determined that the synagogue’s holiness, sanctity and grandeur once
again be available to the Jewish community, the Greenbergs and other
high-ranking Jewish community members and religious leaders, petitioned
Shanghai officials to let them use the synagogue on a regular basis.
Eventually the government allowed use of the building for major Jewish
The government’s permission to use the synagogue during the Expo for
Shabbat services and meals is “a tremendous gesture and a return of
Jewish life to a culturally and historically important synagogue,”
To prepare the synagogue for regular use and to present it in the best
light, Greenberg tapped the Chabad of Shanghai donor base and beyond to
raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate and refurbish the
90-year-old structure. He also brought in the “Expo Rabbi,” his
brother-in-law Mendy Alevsky.
Alevsky, son of University Heights residents Dvora and Rabbi Leibel
Alevsky, and his wife Sara arrived in Shanghai from New York in April to
help the Chabad staff provide kosher meals, classes, tours of
Shanghai’s historical Jewish sites, and Shabbat services to Expo
“If an Expo visitor has a yahrzeit and they want to say kaddish, we help
them get a minyan together,” says Alevsky.
One of the first tasks facing the Alevskys and other area Jewish
Shanghai clergy was to organize and prepare a grand kosher dinner for
the 800 guests invited to the opening of the Israel Pavilion at the
They relied on the shochet (ritual slaughter) the Greenbergs had
previously brought to Shanghai to provide the kosher meat and kashered
the kitchen of a Shanghai restaurant to prepare all the kosher meals.
The Shanghai Jewish Center has an on-site chef who prepares four-course
meals for the Center’s restaurant or for take-out. “Businessmen and
tourists who keep kosher usually eat whatever nonperishable foods they
can squeeze into their suitcases on plastic plates and disposable
silverware,” says Alevsky. “So to come across tasty, warm, freshly
prepared kosher food is a huge treat.”
As they greet Jewish visitors from France, America, Australia, Germany,
Brazil and Israel, the Alevskys are overjoyed to represent the Chabad
community. “Travelers often yearn for a home-away-from-home, and it’s a
pleasure to see their faces light up when they meet our community and
know we are here,” Alevsky remarks. “People who might not be very
observant suddenly have a desire to connect with fellow Jews when
The Alevskys easy transition to life is Shanghai is due to “my sister
and brother-in-law’s guidance who, since 1998 have learned all the
lessons the hard way in every aspect of life here,” he says. “They are
indispensable, as very few Chinese people speak English well enough for
us to communicate with.”
Working in Shanghai will provide invaluable experience for the Alevskys,
who plan to open their own Chabad House somewhere in the world.
“We are following the passion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who taught all
of us that if there are Jews who need Judaism, we must be there to make
it available for them,” Alevsky explains. “Every Jew is precious, and we
are honored to be fulfilling the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision, and
thereby receiving his holy blessing.”