Historic Shanghai synagogue opens

By Erica Lyons, May 13, 2010
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The Chinese government has permitted the temporary re-opening of the historic Ohel Rachel synagogue in Shanghai, one of only two synagogues in the city.

The Ohel Rachel building , which is 90 years old, was seized by the Communist government in 1952 and has been used as a storage facility ever since. It is currently in a state of disrepair but is still seen by Shanghai Jews as a spiritual focal point.

The re-opening, for six months only, is intended to coincide with the Shanghai Expo, which opened on May 1 and will end on October 31.

A "soft opening" of the synagogue was held the end of April, when Shabbat services were permitted.

Judaism is not a recognised religion in China. However, at its peak during the Second World War, Shanghai sheltered over 30,000 Jews who worshiped in seven different synagogues and established countless organisations.

Today there are just 2,000 Jews in the city and Ohel Rachel and Ohel Moishe are the only remaining synagogues. Ohel Moishe hosts a museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish experience in Shanghai.

Ohel Rachel has been derelict for more than 50 years, but in 1993 the city of Shanghai declared it to be a historic landmark, affording it protection from the radical makeover the city of Shanghai was undergoing.

In 1998, the city made superficial repairs to Ohel Rachel when it was visited by then-US first lady Hillary Clinton.

From 1999-2000, Shanghai permitted the community to use the shul for worship three times, for Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover services. There was also a wedding conducted there in 2008.

    Last updated: 1:05pm, May 13 2010