Chinese-Jewish Program Encourages Cross-Cultural Conversation
Launched in February 2019, the Chinese-Jewish Conversation (CJC) is a landmark program at Yeshiva University. Opening strong this semester with two lectures by Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, the CJC partnered with Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and The Katz School of Science and Health to present “Introduction to Jewish Thought from Beijing and Shanghai” and “To Do and To Be: Judaism’s Integration of East and West,” which took place on Oct. 24 and 28, respectively. Both seminars embodied the goal of this new project, which is to “increase mutual awareness between Chinese and Jewish communities and cultures” and to “provide a welcome space for Chinese students at YU.”
After attending the event on the 28th, Adina Bruce (SCW ‘21) said, “It was fascinating to see the axis of overlap between Jewish texts and Chinese philosophy and really interesting to be able to share a space with a demographic within the YU community who we might not necessarily have contact with on a day to day basis to hear about Judaism from their perspective.”
Dr. Mordechai Cohen, a professor at Stern College and Associate Dean at Revel, spearheaded this program after teaching in Shandong University for the last four years and seeing the shared values, traditions and challenges of Chinese and Jewish communities and cultures. These include valuing family, education, community and a historical tradition that stems from textual sources from thousands of years ago as well as the struggle to balance those traditions with modernity.
The Chinese students involved in the program are graduate students studying at the Katz School of Science and Health who are studying subjects such as math and economics and are participating in this program in an extracurricular forum. But, as Dr. Cohen explained about this emerging project: “A lot of different things can be done within the CJC framework. In the spring we’re planning a lecture on environmental protection — in modern-day China and as mandated by Torah law. We’re also looking into hosting an event about the Jews who settled in Shanghai during WWII, and perhaps an introduction to Jewish music — which was requested by our Chinese students. If people have other suggestions, I’m open to them! You never know where the next good idea for an interesting CJC program will come from.” Dr. Cohen explained that there will be future opportunities for undergraduates to participate in this emerging program, including more informal get-togethers with both groups of students as well as the potential for new courses if students show interest, including a language course in Mandarin Chinese.
Dr. Cohen pointed out that this initiative, currently in its early stage, is “like other YU programs, such as the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs. It isn’t tied to any specific YU school. It’s independent, with its own website, activities and budget.” Whether furthering education about Holocaust survivors’ experiences escaping to Shanghai, comparing ancient Chinese and Biblical archeology or exploring similarities with Sefer Ezra and Confucius, The Chinese Jewish Conversation is poised to have a significant impact on global conversations while furthering YU’s mission of Torah U’Madda.
During the inaugural event in February 2019, Shang Guan Shun, a student studying Quantitative Economics at the Katz school, spoke about a teacher from China who “always taught that philosophy helps us live a better life and when it comes to Chinese philosophy like Confucianism ... we should develop what’s useful and healthy and discard that which is not and we should not ignore Western philosophy. His words remind me of our university’s motto: Torah and secular knowledge, combining academic education with the study of the Torah.” She described leaving her home in China to come to America and craving “the traditional spirit that is part of [her] blood” but also getting involved in a different world and becoming more tolerant, open-minded, and respectful of the differences between different people and cultures in a global society. Shang Guan Shun ended off with a wish for intersection without conflict and discrimination but with love and respect. “No man is an island entire of itself, that’s why we have this Chinese Jewish Conversation.”
For more information and to get involved, students can reach Dr. Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Caption: Mordechai Cohen, Ms. Shun Shang Guan and Dr. Roger Ames with students from the Katz School of Science and Health and Stern College for Women at a CJC event.
Photo Credit: CJC