Saturday, June 5, 2010

A sukkah visit from the 1st American citizen to join the Chinese Communist Party (MHBJ May blog)

Last year we built our rooftop sukkah for the second time. It was bright yellow this time, and another achievement in Chinese materials turned into Jewish ritual object.

Thank goodness we had this wonder, because it became the site for a really meaningful event at Moishe House Beijing when we invited a speaker to address our community: 88-year-old Sidney Rittenberg. Born in South Carolina, Rittenberg (Chinese name 李敦白) arrived in China during World War II. After the war, he joined the Communists at their base in Yan’an, where he worked as a translator for Chairman Mao, and worked closely with Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and the other leaders behind the Communist victory in 1949. He was put in solitary confinement twice, for a total of 16 years. Rittenberg shared his experiences as a young Jewish-American in revolutionary China, and very candidly answered the thoughtful questions of the almost 30 people who came.

Rittenberg was an invited speaker at many events in Beijing around this time, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China--- places like embassies and the Foreign Correspondents' Club. Yet he had such a good time speaking with us young people he asked us to call his daughter and tell her not to pick him up! He wanted to take a cab home instead, and after the talk in our living room he climbed our narrow staircase to join everyone for a dessert reception in the upstairs sukkah. For a group of Jewish expats in Beijing to hear from a Jewish expat who was in China in the 1940s, a man with a truly unique story, it was a meaningful day I know many in the community did not forget.

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