With a Single Step: The Shanghai Jewish Story

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A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu*, c. 550 BCE

Every exhibit at Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) is a journey. Many, like last year’s Just Married!, are journeys through time, set in our own backyard here in Maryland. A few, like our current exhibit, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, is an example of an exhibit that travels across the globe as well. But no matter how deep or how far the journey, they all, following the Taoist proverb, begin with a single step.

The single step that initiated our next project happened halfway around the world. While touring China, two JMM Board members (Duke Zimmerman and Abe Kronsberg stepped into the former Ohel Moshe synagogue in Shanghai, which has been converted into the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, and started a conversation with the Museum’s director James Yang. Their meeting let to an email and that email led to an agreement and 14 months later, the JMM will host the Maryland premiere of Jewish Refugees and Shanghai, a panel exhibition of photos and facsimiles with bilingual text in English and Mandarin.

My personal interest in the Shanghai story began years ago when I read Rabbi Marvin Tokayer’s Fugu Plan, the story of the Lithuanian refugees saved by Consul Sugihara and their difficult passage across Russia to Kobe, Japan and eventually to Shanghai. I knew that they were a small part of a much larger refugee community in Shanghai during the Holocaust, but I frankly lacked an appreciation for just how much larger (more than 20,000 Jewish residents), and how much longer (1937 to 1948), this refugee community survived.

Shanghai, today by far the largest city in the world, was a relatively small town into the early 1800s. The Treaty of Nanking (1842) imposed by the British at the end of the First Opium War had the effect of making Shanghai an open port – a place where East met West. It also encouraged the first Jewish settlers here, Baghdadi merchant families, like the Sassoons and the Kadoories, who made the city a base for their East Asian operations.

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The Associated Contributors

The Associated Contributors are writers from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

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