Networking the Great Wall

by Erica Lyons

Connectivity and networks have certainly become buzzwords in the Jewish organizational world. While new global and regional networks are constantly being formed, expanded, analyzed and critiqued, for the Jewish communities of Asia, a robust regional network has been lacking. But as Jerusalem gears up for its big conference/ networking month, the Jews of Asia had its own conference, Limmud China.

Limmud China was a one-day ‘taste of’ experience, following the weekend long Shabbaton hosted by Kehillat Beijing, Beijing’s lay-led Conservative community. Perhaps it was the true spirit of Limmud enhanced further by the mere majestic scenic beauty of the mountains framed by the Great Wall that provided inspiration, but in just a few days, it became clear that disparate communities in Asia are eager to ‘meet one another’.

There were very real connections made, friendships developed and bonds formed. The event has undoubtedly sparked a strong desire for many Jews in Asia to connect more fully with one another across large geographic spaces and country borders irrespective of individuals’ differences in denomination and practice. It was rather the commonality of experience that was stressed. The conversations that tended to take center stage concerned matters like: the challenges of living off the main arteries of the Jewish world, raising multi-cultural children, the difficulty in finding a spouse/ date in a small community, how we are perceived by locals in our respective communities, how to develop a critical mass for events in small communities, how to cater…

The Sunday Limmud sessions provided food for thought but many of the real conversations happened around the communal family style dining tables, while hiking up the Great Wall or around the bonfire Motzei Shabbat. It was clear that this was likely not a one off event and is just one more step in building relationships between the communities of the Far East.

And while the event was called Limmud China, as it was the collaborative effort of a group of individuals in Shanghai (content) and a group in Beijing (logistics and venue), it was in many ways much more as there were also a showing of invited representatives and community members from the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Tokyo.

It also can’t be overlooked that the backing and support from institutions were of enormous assistance in this effort, namely the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) along with support from Limmud International, Kehillat Beijing and Moishe House but the event was about people and connections rather than organizations.

A larger scale Limmud Asia has been proposed for December but small grassroots efforts have also begun to bring people together in the typical flurry of email exchanges that follow any network conference in the Jewish world. The communal conversation in the Far East has received another boost forward.

Erica Lyons is the founder of Asian Jewish Life, a journal of spirit, society and culture.