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Chinese Jewish community marks month's passing of leader Teddy Kaufman

Ronen Shnidman
1 January, 1900

Chinese Jewish community marks month''s passing of leader

Teddy Kaufman, the longtime leader of Israel''s community of former China residents, passed away at 88.

By Ronen Shnidman | Aug.15, 2012 | 10:11 AM


Flowers laid by mourners paying their respects at the grave of Teddy Kaufman, including a wreath from the Association of Former China Residents and the Israel-China Friendship Society.

On Wednesday, descendants of modern China''s once extant Jewish communities mark 30 days since the death of long-time community leader Theodore “Teddy” Kaufman.

Kaufman was best-known for his nearly 50 years at the helm of the Association of Former China Residents in Israel – an organization he helped found in 1951. Kaufman''s death at age 88 was considered a heavy blow for those tied to the Jewish communities with roots in China – the Association termed it “the end of an era.”

“Kaufman''s loss deprives posterity of the sole eyewitness to the inner workings of Harbin''s [a city in northern China] religious and secular communities in the early twentieth century,” said Jonathan Goldstein, professor of East Asian History at the University of West Georgia. Goldstein, author of the two-volume “Jews of China," the most definitive book regarding the Jewish history of modern China, added that he consulted extensively with Kaufman and the Association''s archives when writing his book.

Teddy Kaufman was born on September 2, 1924 in Harbin, Manchuria, then a part of China in the Russian sphere of influence, to the secular Russian Jewish family of Dr. Abaraham Kaufman. Through his father, Teddy was also the great-great-grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement.

The elder Kaufman was best remembered for his role as head of the Far Eastern Jewish Council, under whose auspices he helped save approximately 20,000 European Jews from the Holocaust by assisting their temporary resettlement in Kobe, Japan and the Shanghai Ghetto.

Throughout his long life, the younger Kaufman emulated his father by playing a very active role in Jewish communal affairs. His first such position was as personal secretary to Harbin''''''''s Chief Rabbi A.M. Kiselev, where he served as a conduit between Kiselev, a staunch Religious Zionist, and the secular Zionist segment of the local community led by his father.

Kaufman imparted much of his extensive knowledge of the Jewish community in Harbin in his memoir, “The Jews of Harbin Live on in My Heart.” The book was published in 2006 with editions in both Hebrew and English.

After moving  to Israel in 1949, Kaufman first found work at the Jewish National Fund and became an active member in the Labor Zionist Mapai Party. Within a year Kaufman found an opening at Tel Aviv''s City Hall. He proceeded to work as a municipal employee in a variety of positions for nearly 35 years, finally capping off his career as chairman of the Tel Aviv municipal employees'''''''' union. Kaufman also served a member of the coordinating committee of the Histadrut labor federation in the mid-1980s.

However, the focus of Kaufman''s lifelong dedication was preserving the heritage of China''s Jewish communities and fostering the development of warm ties between Israel and China.

Kaufman pursued the former by helping found the Association of Former China Residents in Israel, a landsmanschaften organization created to aid the resettlement of Jewish immigrants from China in the years immediately following 1948. Once resettlement efforts were successfully concluded, the Association shifted focus to providing scholarships to the descendants of former China residents pursuing post-secondary studies in Israel. The Association also became the main body dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Jewish communities that existed in 19th and early 20th century China.

Kaufman took a particularly active role over the years in maintaining regular correspondence between the Association in Tel Aviv and its sister landsmanschaften located in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sydney, Australia and Montreal, Canada. He also expended considerable effort in raising funds for the organization from former community members living in the Diaspora. In Israel, Kaufman''s pleasant manner was familiar to generations of Chinese Jews who regularly met at the Association''s annual Hannukah scholarship ceremony and other community functions.

After the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and China in 1992, Kaufman also helped found the Israel-China Friendship Society that same year. The ICFS has played an important role in people-to-people relations between Israel and China, maintaining ties with Chinese friendship societies, universities and academic institutions. As president of the ICFS from its founding until his death, Kaufman frequently hosted Chinese diplomats, students and visiting academics at ICFS events and at his home in Ramat Gan.

“Teddy and the Association really had exceptionally good relations with the Chinese and we hosted many Chinese government official and visiting academics over the years,” said his wife Rasha, a Jewish Shanghai native who he met and married in Israel. She added, “He even visited Harbin six separate times [after 1992] as part of different delegations.”

In an official statement, the Chinese Embassy in Israel lamented the death of Kaufman, lauding the instrumental role he played in promoting the development of Sino-Israeli relations.

"Mr. Kaufman, as president of the Israel-China Friendship Society, had long been committed to promoting China-Israel exchanges in varied fields and maintained friendly relations with the Embassy and Chinese people," said the statement. "He was like the still water, running deep in his efforts to develop relations between China and Israel.

"Mr. Kaufman represented the spirit of selfless giving back,” the statement continued. As an old Chinese saying goes, ''''Don''t forget the well-diggers when drinking from the well.'''''''' Mr. Kaufman never forgot his well-digger, by showing his deep affection to China where he was born and lived for 26 years. He then became a well-digger himself and set an example for younger generations. Mr. Kaufman worked until the last hours of his life promoting the Israel-China relationship."





Name: Teddy (Theodore Kaufman)

Nationality: Israel

Place and date of birth: Harbin, China 2/09/1924

Marital status: Married

Education: Graduate of Harbin Highschool of Commerce


Work experience in Harbin, China

1939-1941: Secretary of the Maccabi Zionist Youth Movement 

1941-1943: Secretary of the Editorial Staff of the weekly magazine "Jewish Life" published in Russian

1941-1949: Secretary of the Jewish Community Council in Harbin

1941-1945: Secretary of the Zionist organization in Harbin

1941-1949: Editor of "Newsletter" (published illegally) - updated information on Israel War of Independence

April-November 1949: Secretary of the underground committee dealing with immigration of Jews from China to Israel 

December 1949: Immigrated to Israel


Work experience in Israel

January 1950: Employed by the Jewish National Fund

April 1950-1985: Employed by the Tel Aviv Municipality

July 1966-1986: Director of the Provident Fund of Tel Aviv Municipality''''s workers Chairman of the Tel Aviv Municipality Workers'''' Union

1971-1989: Member of the Central Committee of the Israel Labour Party

1970-1985: Member of the Executive Committee of the General Federation of Labour in Israel (Histadrut)

1975-1997: Editor of Union Workers Monthly "Shaarim"

1985-1989: General Secretary of the Tel Aviv Labour Council (Histadrut)

1951-1955: One of the founders and Honorary General Secretary of the Association of Former Jewish Residents of China in Israel

1972 to July 2012: President of the Association of Former Jewish residents of China in Israel

1995 to July 2012: Editor of the "Bulletin" - magazine of AFRCI and ICFS in three languages: Hebrew, English and Russian

1992 to July 2012: One of the founders and President of the Israel-China Friendship Society

1992, 1994, 2004, 2006: Visits to China as the Head of the Delegation of AFRCI and ICFS 

1994: Participant in the Seminar in Shanghai on the history of Jews in Shanghai

2004, 2006: Organizer of the Seminar in Harbin on the history of Jews in Harbin