What if we took our New Year Celebration to the streets?
What are we, as Jews, missing?
Clearly something, since others, especially Asians, find that there is an immense value in our Jewish culture and traditions. Aspects of our heritage that we either take for granted or deride as old-fashioned provide them with ample areas of study.
Perhaps by reading this (non-definitive) list of specifically Jewish phenomena that they find interesting and worthy of study, we will be inspired to reclaim our own connections. Here is what has been the subject of examination:
Our method of Talmud study, which engages the mind in different ways than other types of learning. I’ve written about this curiosity of the South Koreans several years ago here. About 50,000,000 Koreans have studied the Talmud (in a country where most people are Christian or Buddhist). If that wasn’t impressive enough, a recent article in the New Yorker called “How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in Korea” states that every South Korean home has at least one copy of the Talmud. (Reality check–if you’re Jewish and reading this: can you say the same?).
The way in which the bonds of connection is reinforced between the generations through home-based rituals. Our many holidays and celebrations reinforce and strengthen family values…all of which are of interest to a nation that wants to advance, yet hold on to family traditions.
Our penchant for beating the Nobel odds. They are exploring the reasons why at least twenty percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, while Jews represent less than 0.2% of the world’s population. They want to know the ‘secret sauce’ that outdoes statistical expectations. (Much has already been written of the “Tiger Mom” syndrome and how it relates to Jewish mothers’ approach to success, so I won’t go into that here).
Our entrepreneurial success (particularly in Israel, where there are a disproportionate number of profitable tech start-ups relative to the population) and ability to think of ever newer technologies that answer today’s problems successfully. Even though for example, founders may not identify primarily as “Jewish” the fact is evident (an obvious example would be Mark Zuckerberg….who, um, married Priscilla Chan).
Judaism as researched from an academic lens. Since the Chinese nation is in a process of advancement, it sees Jews as another ancient people who have excelled while maintaining a distinct identity. There are no fewer than ten academic centers of Jewish studies in Chinese Universities across the country, and students often spend a semester abroad, learning more about Jewish history and culture in Israel or the United States. The deputy director of the Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University, says that the curiosity reflects “Judeophilia” rather than “Judeophobia” .
Trade potential between the Israel and China. Trade has increased over 20000% in the past two decades, and today reaches over $10.8 billion. China is now Israel’s third-largest trading partner, after the United States and the EU. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy Minister has described Israel as “going East” in terms of trade and Research &Development.
The ability to keep languages alive that many thought were doomed to extinction. Hebrew was not a spoken, modern language until the 1940’s and for years the use of Yiddish has been in decline. Chinese state radio now broadcasts in Hebrew. Jewish experts who China brings as guests for news and business shows are able to speak Hebrew with their Chinese interviewers. A Ph.D. student recently wrote and performed history’s first Chinese-Yiddish song (you can watch it here) after studying Yiddish and Hebrew in Israel. She stated that “Nowadays, more and more Chinese are curious about Jewish history and culture.” An online news item reported that people living in Russia’s Far East (a territory along the Russian-Chinese border) are studying Yiddish. There, “all schoolchildren learn Yiddish as part of the curriculum, even though students of Chinese and Korean descent often outnumber Jewish ones.“
The investment potential of connecting with Israeli companies. Stephanie Lee, founder of Beijing Zion Shalom Cultural Development Company, matches Chinese investors with Israeli high-tech startups stated “We really want to learn more about the culture, also the religious customs, and see how children are raised”. In the early part of the decade there was virtually no high-tech funding from China. Just two years ago, within a couple of years, Chinese firms invested $32 billion in Israel. Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, invests heavily in Israeli tech and bio-tech, and over one-third of the startups funded by his company is Israeli. China is in second place (after the United States) as a collaborator with Israeli high-tech firms backed by Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist.
The appeal of Shabbat. A company in Israel, called Shabbat of a Lifetime, arranges a Sabbath meal experience with non-Jewish tourists who want to experience its allure first-hand in homes of traditionally observant Jews. Recently, those who are requesting the program are predominantly from Asian countries.
Further reading on related topics: