Mon, Feb 14, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Taipei's Jewish community has deep roots

MAKING A HOME Taiwan has had a small Jewish community since the 1950s. The nation's only rabbi tells of its history and touches on links to the Holocaust

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In addition, the rabbi also keeps a private library of Jewish works at the hotel, which he proudly claims is the largest in Asia.

The congregation is diverse.

"The [Jewish] community consists of an unusual community. It consists of three groups: People who live here -- that includes people who have lived here for many years, and people who have lived here for a few years on assignments, [as well as] business people who come here regularly," Einhorn said.

Einhorn, who is in his 80s, is a man of many talents. In addition to his work as a rabbi, he has helped the Taiwanese government achieve ground-breaking work in seeking diplomatic relations with Eastern Europe. He also runs a successful trading company of his own, is an honorary member of the Rotary Club and is chairman of Republicans Abroad Taiwan for the US Republican Party.

For the services, Jewish people from all over the world -- Americans, Canadians, English, Israeli, Brazilian, Costa Ricans, Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, Moroccans and Germans -- gather in one special room in the five-star hotel .

The makeup of congregants has significantly shifted over the course of time. There were the American GIs, followed by long-term foreign businessmen in manufacturing industries such as textiles, shoes and toys. These businessmen have now been replaced by high-tech professionals.

Diplomatic representatives and expatriates working for multinational corporations may also be found in the congregation.

In addition to Jewish people, Christians as well as Taiwanese who are interested in Israel or Judaism, also turn up at the synagogue.

"It is a wonderful experience to see and hear a Jewish service or to hear someone talk about Judaism," Einhorn said.

A Taiwanese who used to attend the services has since converted and joined Jewish faith, Einhorn said.

Einhorn also told of a local Catholic priest who once brought together leaders of all faiths to sit in on a Jewish service at the hotel.

On High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), a congregation numbering 60 to 100 may be counted on.

The average weekly turnout is about eight to nine people.

Shapiro notes: "It is quite a small room -- 10 [congregants] is our goal. Certain prayers are to take place if at least 10 people are present."

Shapiro has been an active member of Taipei's Jewish community.

Festivals

During the Jewish festivals, such as Hanukkah (Festival of Lights), Passover and Purim, the community comes together to have dinner, sing songs and do readings of the ancient tales, Shapiro said.

Purim, mentioned in the biblical book of Esther, is the day where the Jewish celebrate their ancestors' survival against an attempt to wipe out all Jews in ancient Persia, by a villain called Haman.

"On that day, we read the story of Esther in Hebrew. When the name of the villain is mentioned, we will yell out loud to drown out his name," Shapiro said.

Some Difficulties

While the weekly services offer the Jewish community a place to come together, when it comes to daily living, there can be problems. Getting kosher food in Taiwan, for example, can get a bit tricky.

"The Ritz prepares kosher food. Every Friday, they bake special bread to serve after service. And those [congregants] in particular can also have it sent to their rooms. Of course, they know how to prepare: no meat or shellfish," the rabbi explained.

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