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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

China visit marks 'homecoming' for Israel's Olmert

China visit marks 'homecoming' for Israel's Olmert
January 09, 2007, 12:30,2172,141480,00.html
When Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, makes his first official visit to Beijing this week, it will be a homecoming of sorts. Olmert's parents belonged to a Jewish community that fled persecution in Russia and re-settled in the northern Chinese city of Harbin almost a century ago.
Mordechai and Bella Olmert were ardent Zionists who eventually moved to the then British Mandate Palestine and helped found Israel. They also bequeathed to their children a lifelong appreciation for the country that first gave them refuge.
Olmert has profound love for Chinese people
"Chinese culture became a part of our family's tradition. It is my first memory from my childhood in Israel," Olmert told China's Xinhua news agency in an interview published on Sunday. "We maintain a profound love for the Chinese people."
The Olmert family saga reflects a cultural rapport between Chinese and Jews which, experts say, existed long before Beijing normalised ties with Israel in 1992 and has flowered since.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the lopsided demographics - 13 million Jews to 1.3 billion Chinese - many in China profess admiration for the achievements of the Jewish diaspora and of Israel. Jewish observers of China, in turn, respect its ancient culture and status as a growing industrial powerhouse.
Business spirit acknowledged in China
"Both Chinese and Jewish civilisations are brilliant and have long histories," Chen Yonglong, China's ambassador to Israel, said in an address last year. "The entrepreneur spirit and business talent of the Jewish people are well acknowledged all over China."
Harbin boasted Asia's largest synagogue and a Jewish community that grew to more than 20 000 in the 1920s. Olmert's parents spoke Mandarin; according to family lore, Mordechai's last words on his deathbed were in the Chinese dialect. One of Olmert's grandfathers, Yosef, is buried in Harbin. - Reuters

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