Which country has 10 Jewish study centres? (And it's not obvious)

New professor Naim Dangoor

New professor Naim Dangoor

A delegation of professors from a leading foreign university flew to London last Friday to honour a British supporter of their country's burgeoning programme of Jewish studies.

Philanthropist Naim Dangoor, who is 97, was made a consultant professor of China's Nanjing University in an award ceremony held in his Kensington apartment.

"We are very proud that you are now one of us," Nanjing vice-president Xue Hai Lin told Professor Dangoor, newly decorated in his black and red academic robes and sporting a black mortar board with red tassel.

Nanjing's Institute of Jewish Studies opened in May 1992, just a few months after Israel and China established diplomatic relations. According to Professor Xu Xin, director of the Nanjing Institute and president of the China Judaic Studies Association, there are now around 10 Jewish studies centres in the country.

Nanjing's 800-page Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Judaica is the standard reference work on Judaism in the country and its other works include a how-and-why of antisemitism as well as a translation of Martin Gilbert's Atlas of Jewish History. Iraqi-born Prof Dangoor said that he was "greatly honoured" by his award, which he received along with a gold thread embroidered tapestry of a kirin, a mythical beast which signifies good luck, prosperity and a long life.

His family foundation has not only funded scholarships at Nanjing, but is also investing in the study of "universal monotheism" - his personal project to promote a global religious ethic.

Only a few weeks ago Nanjing hosted an international symposium on monotheism sponsored by the foundation, attended from scholars from across China, as well as from North America, Australia and Israel.

"Let belief in the one God unite us," Naim Dangoor wrote in the introduction to the event's programme, "lest fanatical beliefs and militant religion divide us".

He has also set up a centre for universal monotheism at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, which recently ran a conference in Japan.

The link with Nanjing came about a few years ago when his son David met Professor Xu on a Jewish tour of China.

The family had always had a fascination with the country because Professor Dangoor's late wife Renée was born in Shanghai, growing up among the city's Sephardi community.

Last updated: 12:56pm, July 28 2011