China Jews
Jewish museum in Harbin, China. Photo by Shiri Lev-Ari
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The Chinese city of Harbin reopened a 105-year-old synagogue to the public after an extensive restoration.

The Main Synagogue on Harbin’s Tongjiang Street was reopened last week after 12 months of renovations at a festive ceremony featuring a performance by the String Quartet of the State Glazunovs Conservatory from the city of Petrozavodsk in Russia, the Xinhua news agency reported.

In 19th and 20th centuries, thousands of Jews immigrated to the northeastern city of Harbin to escape persecution in Europe and Czarist Russia, establishing there one of the largest Jewish communities in the Far East.

The Chinese government conducted the restoration project with help from Dan Ben-Canaan, an Israeli scholar who has lived in Harbin for more than decade and works there as director of Heilongjiang University’s Sino-Israel Research and Study Center.

The restored synagogue, he told Xinhua, “looks exactly the same as when the synagogue first opened in 1909, making this a unique location.”

Once an Orthodox synagogue seating up to 450 people, the building’s exterior boasts a Star of David sitting atop the rooftop dome.

Inside, the women’s gallery on the second floor, the men’s prayer hall and rabbi’s bimah platform have all been restored, complete with safety rails featuring elaborate decorations that combine Jewish and Chinese symbols.

However, the reopened synagogue is not meant to function as a place of worship but as a concert theater, according to Xinhua.

The synagogue was damaged in 1931 by a fire that, according to Ben-Canaan, was started by gangs of anti-Communist Russians. It was renovated after the fire and closed down in 1963. It was converted into a hospital and a hostel, leaving its interior badly damaged, the report said.