By Joy Nemerson, NFTY Social Action Vice President
At every Passover Seder we have in my home, my mother always begins with the same shpiel, “Seder means order, we have to do it in this specific order like all of the other Jews around the world!” Growing up I always found that to be kind of a romantic thought. Sure I had heard the song, “Wherever You Go There’s Always Someone Jewish” but I had never really believed it.
I started believing there really were Jewish people everywhere in the fall of 2002. My mother was teaching at the National University of Singapore and she brought my sister, Elana, and I along with her. Since we were there during September, we would be spending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a foreign country. It was not so foreign to us, however, when we realized that we were not the only Jews in Singapore. Who would have thought that there was such a large community of Jews in Southeast Asia? My nine-year-old self did not expect it. Since that point, the song’s message has rung true again and again.
Right after my fourteenth birthday my family departed on a trip to India. We had made many stops all around the country, but the highlight was a little village in the state of Cochin called Jewtown. Jews migrated here in the time of King Solomon and then again in a second wave when Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition arrived. When I visited, the streets of the town were covered with Jewish stars and the shops filled with Judaica. The synagogue was adorned with Belgian chandeliers, crowns and copper plates from the 10th century, and the floor was lined with hundreds of Chinese tiles. Even thought I was not at home, and somewhere REALLY new, the rich traditions of the Jewish people were still there.
The most recent worldly Jewish experience I had was in a Shanghai Jewish Ghetto in 2010. This didn’t just hit home for me because of the Jewish connection, but because it also connected my Chinese side. I am not ethnically Chinese, but I have been studying Chinese language and culture for seven years now so being able to venture into this ghetto on my very first visit to China made me feel elated. Shanghai welcomed the Jews during WWII and was one of the only places that didn’t require them to have Visas to enter the city. My family and I visited the newly renovated Ohel Moishe Synagogue which also houses the Refugee Museum. The whole building was beautiful and documented the history so well.
Wherever I travel, with and without my family, I often find myself thinking about the Jews who inhabit that place. Whether it be Singapore, Cochin, Shanghai – “Oh, they’re miles apart But when we light the candles on Sabbath eve, We share in the prayer in each one of our hearts.”
Joy Nemerson is from New Haven Connecticut, where she was an active member and regional board member of NFTY Northeast. In the Fall, Joy will be attending American University.
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