In this feature by Dvora Lakein, From Park Slope to Pudong, Lubavitch International profiled six women serving as Chabad emissaries in disparate places. Like their personalities, their circumstances are strikingly different to each other; some with children, some without, and some with extreme challenges. Whatever the “cards” that have been dealt them, these women play the hand with refreshing grace and confidence, offering an illuminating contrast to the noisy politics of our day.
When Nechamie Greenberg and her husband Avraham moved to Pudong, China, in 2006, the section of Shanghai was only 20 years old. Previously open fields, Pudong has matured alongside the Greenbergs, who are busy raising their eight children and leading a vibrant Chabad presence in its center.
Our community is comprised of ex-pats who work for large corporations or as entrepreneurs. Families hail from the United States, Europe, and Israel. Because of the nature of their postings and tax regulations, they are usually here for just a few years which means that we are constantly starting from scratch. Soon after we really connect with a family, they are getting ready to leave. Twelve students, or a third of our Hebrew School, moved away this past summer.
On the other hand, when people are far from family and friends they are more receptive to new things. Families who wouldn’t join Chabad in their hometown find their way through our doors and connect with us. Our Hebrew School enrollment, for example, includes 95% of the Jewish community.
Pudong is the district east of the Huangpu River and it is the most modern section of the city. It is compared to Manhattan for its sleek beauty, its fast pace, and its tall skyscrapers. Shanghai in general is always changing and developing. Two year ago, NYU opened a campus in Pudong, which attracts many Jewish professors and students.
Every summer, we fly to the United States for the Rebbe’s yahrzeit. We stay for a month allowing our children to join camps and be with friends like them. When we return, we fill our suitcases with all kinds of food and supplies. We try to have visitors bring us milk when they come from Israel, but sometimes a whole year will pass before we get any.
My older children are on the Israeli track of the Chabad online school which works best with our time zone. It begins at 3:00 in the afternoon and ends at 9:00 pm. Mornings are filled with visits with friends and cousins (there are two other emissary families in greater Shanghai) and lighter studies. We speak Yiddish and English at home and my three oldest learned Hebrew fluently from their teachers and peers online. I’ve even overheard them chatting amongst themselves in Hebrew.
In China we always have problems with the internet. It is a communist country after all, and they censor everything that comes through. Google, Gmail, YouTube—none of those sites work here. We use a VPN to get around the restrictions, but sometimes a whole month can go by without proper access, and this disrupts the live streaming of my children’s online classes. Once, after a challenging period with the internet, our boys composed a song lamenting the “Chinese firewall” that prevents them from learning Torah.
In general, as foreigners, we aren’t really impacted by most of China’s laws on a personal level. China’s two-child policy doesn’t apply to us because we aren’t citizens, and could never become citizens even if we wanted to. Even my children who are born here don’t receive local citizenship.
When my brother-in-law Rabbi Shalom and his wife Dina Greenberg, the first emissaries to mainland China arrived here, the Chinese government allowed them to stay on condition that that they wouldn’t proselytize to the locals. Chinese people are not allowed at our functions or in our synagogue, and we are required all our fliers state that our events are restricted to foreign passport holders only. People do reach out to us by email occasionally, but we have to tell them that Chinese government laws do not allow us to help.
People come to China for professional reasons, not because they want to increase their connection to Judaism. And yet, this is precisely what often happens here. They connect, and leave with something they never imagined they would find here in China.