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Cablegate: Shanghai Jewish Community Sees Expo As a Way to Expand

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RR RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHGH #0033/01 0290654
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 290654Z JAN 10
FM AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8519
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 3283
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 2375
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0832
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 2547
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 2366
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 2167
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 0005
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 9186

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SHANGHAI 000033

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CH IS KIRF PGOV PHUM PREL SCUL
SUBJECT: SHANGHAI JEWISH COMMUNITY SEES EXPO AS A WAY TO EXPAND
RECOGNITION

REF: A. A) SHANGHAI 17 (EXPAT MORMONS IN SHANGHAI)
B. B) 09 SHANGHAI 162 (SHANGHAI'S JEWISH COMMUNITY)

1. (SBU) Summary: Shanghai's Jewish community has seen
slow-but-observable progress toward greater acceptance by local
government authorities over the last decade. The community now
seeks to take advantage of the six-month-long Shanghai World
Expo to push the door open another few inches. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Consul General met January 21 with Rabbi Shalom D.
Greenberg, a leader in Shanghai's Jewish community, to discuss
efforts to gain more use of the historic Ohel Rachel Synagogue.
Rabbi Greenberg and Israeli Consul General Jackie Eldan both
credit the U.S. Consulate with helping obtain permission to use
the synagogue for religious services, albeit on a limited basis,
starting ten years ago. The Rabbi and Israeli Consulate are now
asking city authorities for use of the synagogue on Friday and
Saturday nights during the May 1-October 31 duration of the
Expo, arguing that foreign visitors to the World's Fair will
expect to be able to attend religious services while in
Shanghai.

WARTIME REFUGEE HAVEN

---------------------

3. (SBU) In the early part of the 20th century, Shanghai's
Jewish community grew to 30,000 as Jews fled Central Europe (Ref
B). Two synagogues from that era, Ohel Moshe and Ohel Rachel,
have been preserved, although not as officially recognized
places of worship. (Note: According to Rabbi Greenberg, there
are approximately 2,000 expatriate Jews in Shanghai today; he
estimates 500 are U.S. citizens, 400-500 are Israeli citizens,
and 150 are French citizens. There are no Chinese citizen Jews
to speak of. End Note.)

4. (SBU) Ohel Moshe Synagogue, located in the Hongkou district
that housed thousands of Jewish refugees during World War II, is
now a museum, restored with help from the United States
Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad and
the Government of Israel. A plaque dedicated in 2008
commemorates the 1938-1940 actions of Chinese Consul General in
Vienna Ho Feng-shan, who facilitated the safe passage of 3,000
Austrian Jews to Shanghai. Many of these refugees, including
former Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, later moved to the
United States.

OHEL RACHEL SYNAGOGUE

---------------------

5. (SBU) The Ohel Rachel Synagogue, built in 1921, was renovated
by the city government in 1998 for the visit of then-First Lady
Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright. Later added to the World Monuments Fund's
preservation "Watch List", the synagogue is located in a complex
used by the Shanghai Education Bureau and not usually accessible
to outside visitors.

6. (SBU) Since 1999, Shanghai authorities have allowed access to
Ohel Rachel by the Jewish community three times a year. While
refusing use during the High Holidays, the government agreed to
Hanukkah, Purim, and the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day.
Although for the past ten years this access was granted on the
basis of an annual joint request signed by the U.S. and Israeli
Consuls General (Ref B), the situation has now become routine
enough that Rabbi Greenberg said a letter is no longer
necessary. Hoping to advance the situation a step further, the

SHANGHAI 00000033 002 OF 003


Rabbi is now seeking regular routine access to the Ohel Rachel
Synagogue and permission to restore the building and
surroundings as a center for Jewish life in Shanghai. The
Shanghai Government has so far refused to allow the Jewish
community to make upgrades to the building, which lacks air
conditioning and heating.

JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER

-----------------------

7. (SBU) Another sign of progress flagged by Rabbi Greenberg was
the inclusion of a photo of the unofficial Jewish Community
Center in a 2005 publication on "The Jews in Shanghai". The
caption identifying the center (a house in the western suburbs)
is seen by Rabbi Greenberg as de facto recognition of Jewish
religious activity in Shanghai. Equally notable, the Public
Security Bureau (PSB) has shown a willingness to turn a blind
eye to the 80-150 foreigners who gather at the center every
Friday evening. Rabbi Greenberg described a conversation with a
PSB official who insisted that the occasion involves only 40-50
people, while acknowledging that additional "uninvited" guests
also show up. This helpful fiction allows the Friday gatherings
to operate without the permit required for gatherings of more
than 50 people.

WORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR EXPO VISITORS

----------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Noting that he has already received inquiries about
religious services from future visitors to the Shanghai 2010
World Expo, Rabbi Greenberg submitted a request to the Shanghai
Foreign Affairs Office in November 2009 to use Ohel Rachel on
Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the entire May-October
Expo period. To support this effort, Rabbi Greenberg is
requesting that local diplomats and visiting dignitaries mention
the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in their meetings with city officials.
He hopes this will lead the city government to realize the
importance of allowing foreign visitors to attend services at
the synagogue.

9. (SBU) Rabbi Greenberg also requested that the U.S. Consulate
consider adding a visit to Ohel Rachel to the itineraries of
future CODELS and other visitors to raise awareness. He noted
that Israeli President Simon Peres will visit the synagogue when
he comes to the Expo in early May.

COMMENT

-------

10. (SBU) Despite the fact that Judaism is not one of the five
religions officially recognized by the Chinese government, the
Shanghai authorities allow low-key religious activities, as long
as mainly foreigners are involved. At least some local
officials recognize that Shanghai's war-time role as a haven for
Jewish refuges is a source of great good will; the bilingual
publication "The Jews in Shanghai" devotes 135 pages to text and
pictures illustrating the city's long Jewish heritage. This
recognition, combined with a desire to showcase Shanghai during
the Expo, may lead to greater accommodation for the foreign
Jewish community and the Ohel Rachel Synagogue. Coupled with
the recent Shanghai issuance of a permit allowing foreign
Mormons to hold weekly services (Ref A), municipal approval for
regular Jewish worship would be another step toward easing
restrictions on religious observances in Shanghai. As the city

SHANGHAI 00000033 003 OF 003


faces the glare of the Expo spotlight and a surge of visitors,
some officials are showing awareness that the right to worship
in one's own faith is part of what many foreigners expect from a
world class city.
CAMP

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