Why am I making this film?
I am working on a documentary called “Last of the Chinese Jews”. Many people asks me why? Let me answer that with a story. I was holding my daughter in our kitchen. Our fridge has many fridge magnets from all our travels. Mabel stretched out her little arm and motioned me to get us closer. As we moved she decisively grabbed a white and blue bird magnet. “Israel” and a star of David is on it. She held onto it for a long time without letting go.
Mabel Azalea Wang is a Chinese Canadian of Jewish descend. In her DNA she carries the blood of an ancient people. This people is fierce, this people is conning. They are brave and sometimes cowardly. The can be cruel and also kind. They have been misunderstood and outcasted. They have suffered and transgressed. They can be brilliant and foolish. Their faith and traditions unite and define them. They fought tyranny with violence and fought violence with tyranny. Olive branches in one hand and gun in the other, they live on the edge of glory with a gusto of idealised righteousness. More than anything, they are constantly searching for who they are in the world.
Deep down, this people is none other than our brothers and sisters. We fight and scorn; we bite and scratch. In the end, we reflect each other, we need each other, we complete each other. We are all here for a limited time playing an infinite game. What sets us apart may one day bring us back together again.
Rubbings from a stone carving depicting rebuilding of the Kaifeng synagogue.
The story of the Chinese Jews has been told by many, but never by the father of a Chinese Jew. This story can be told in many ways, but never in the way I am going to tell it. I am telling this story to you and to my daughter and my daughter’s daughters… I want them to remember that one day the skies opened up and the universe commanded their grandfather to tell a story. A story of Jewish origin with Chinese flavours. A story full of struggles and intrigue, twists and turns. A story exploring the most important question of them all: Who are we and where we came from?
My family visiting the Western Wall in 2019.
Mabel stood in the lobby of a noisy Jerusalem hostel. Strange faces, foreign accents and exotic smells all around her. She was fascinated by the souvenir fridge magnets. A female worker noticed this and picked out a white dove magnet. She puts the magnet in Mabel’s hand and said “Welcome to Israel.” At that moment in time, Mabel is accepted by a fellow Jew in the land of their common ancestors. This feeling is imprinted in her mysterious little mind. So much so that out of all the magnets we have at home she holds this one closest to her heart.
Unmistakably, this belongingness is also what the Chinese Jews in Kaifeng are willing to live and die for. They risk their lives to preserve their past, to uncover their identity, to rekindle their faith. Many of them dream of coming home and making aliyah to the promised land. Doors open, brothers and sisters in arms, smiling faces, laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, healing… and god-willing, a place among their ancestors. Eternity with Family bathed in golden light. What could be more precious? What could be more worthy of a lifetime of struggle?
So my friends this is my answer. Out of all the stories that I can tell. I chose this one. This is a story for the ages. This is a story gifted to me to discover and share. This is a story that matters and it needs to be told to people who give a damn.
Shooting footage in Jerusalem.
Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out how you can take part in bringing this amazing story to life.
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