Hong Kong: The Shabbat experience

Although Tracing the Tribe is now in Melbourne, I wanted to report on my Shabbat in Hong Kong.

I attended Friday night services with Garry Stein (an old Jewish genealogy friend from Toronto) at the United Jewish Congregation (liberal). Melodies were a mix of old, new and nostalgic There were Jewish faces and Asian faces, but most of all, there were singers. This is a singing congregation.

UJC’s premises were carved out of space in One Robinson Place (70 Robinson Road), which includes two tall residential towers, the multi-floored JCC and the original Ohel Leah historic synagogue.

Following services, we went up to the Sabra Coffee Shop in the JCC for Shabbat dinner. The large space was transformed into separate dining rooms for two groups. The food was excellent and the company – a real mix of individuals – even better. One Chinese woman who attended is studying ethnomusicology at Hong Kong University and focusing on Jewish music, another young man is Brazilian; there are Americans and other nationalities.

On Shabbat morning, Ohel Leah was my choice. This wonderfully restored synagogue is across the courtyard from the JCC’s Garden Terrace function room. The courtyard also has a playground well-used by the young children.

As OHL is an Orthodox congregation, women sit upstairs; the mechitza is an openwork grill surrounding the three-sided balcony. The acoustics are excellent, and the Torah scrolls in their silver Sephardic cases (tik) are masterpieces. The congregation uses the ArtScroll siddur and Stone chumash.
Everyone who read or participated had beautiful voices – it was a pleasure to be part of this Shabbat service. A sit-down kiddush followed. Among the familiar faces of people I had spoken to all week wasa new one: Howard Elias, who is both the Jewish cemetery warden and Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival organizer. Tracing the Tribe bets you didn’t know there was one!

Kiddush included baked salmon in a delicious sauce, Chinese cold noodles, dressed cucumber salad, tomato salad, even hummus and eggplant salad. The community’s excellent challah is superb; dessert was a strudel-ly pastry. Howard said this was regular kiddush fare, adding that I should see it when there’s a simcha!

Howard grew up in Toronto, was a USYer, and lived very close to my TALALAY cousins.

During the zemirot singing after the meal, visiting Rabbi Jackson – from Ireland – offered a melody for one popular song that sounded very much like the Mighty Mouse cartoon theme. I won’t forget that one very soon.

Over the past week, I’ve received many private comments from readers who have visited Hong Kong but never knew about the Jewish community, the JCC or attended a Shabbat service.

If this destination is on your radar screen, do try to visit, attend a Shabbat service, check events and meet the community – I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience.

Don’t forget the 11th Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, set for November 13-21, 2010.

I am looking forward to my return trip March 21-25 to this diverse, welcoming and interesting community.

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