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Connecting Our Communities

The Jewish Community Center

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Synagogue/roof
When you think of Taiwan and religion it tends to be images of Buddhist and Taoist temples that spring to mind. However, you can also find churches, mosques and one synagogue. Since I started living abroad I’ve become more and more interested in different faiths as they are so often intertwined with a country’s culture. This was particularly the case when I came to Asia, as the temples you see here are so different from the English churches that I grew up with. However, a few months ago I learned about the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and my curiosity was piqued as I realised that I had never, ever, visited a synagogue. I thought I knew something about Judaism but my visit to the JCC was a total eye opener. It made me very aware of how little I actually knew, while at the same time being full of beautiful surprises.
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Outside of the center
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Mr Schwartz and Na Tang
As I walked tentatively down Alley 1, I thought I might be lost, but then I saw this gleaming white building ahead of me and knew that I was in the right place. The JCC lights up the narrow street with its sparkling white walls and its simple shape. It houses a treasure trove of Judaica which decorate the walls and tell the history of the Jews. It also has a beautiful mikveh for the spiritual cleansing that Jewish people undertake from time to time. On the roof is a Moroccan-tiled floor that leads you to the synagogue, painted inside in a warm yellow so you feel it’s permanently bathed in sunshine. Finally, it houses the only authentic kosher restaurant in Taipei which has some mouthwatering dishes on the menu.
The JCC opened in 2021 to provide the Jews in Taiwan (there are around 1,000) with an official place of worship and somewhere to share and pass on their heritage. This place was one of the first projects completed by the Jewish Taiwan Cultural Association (JTCA). This Association was founded by Jeffrey Schwartz and his wife Na Tang. Mr Schwartz has lived in Taiwan since the seventies and wanted to give something back to the Taiwanese community. He financed the design and construction of the building and donated many judaica from his private collection. While Mr Schwartz is the founder of the JCC, Rabbi Shlomi ensures the religious standards are observed there. Rabbi Shlomi was educated and trained by the Chabad-Lubavitch organisation but reaches out to all Jews. He conducts the services in the synagogue and helps with the goal of maintaining Jewish customs and traditions. Mr Schwartz describes their partnership thus: “Rabbi Shlomi will be the “glue” that keeps our traditions and “Jewishness” intact, and, hopefully, perhaps I can be the “oil” that keeps it all running smoothly.”
The JTCA and JCC also have the wider goals of increasing other people’s understanding of Jewish culture and history and connecting with the global Jewish community. The former is key to strengthening relationships with the Taiwanese and the foreigners who live here. The latter is to offer Jewish visitors a place to come while they are in Taiwan and to share the wonderful experiences of living in Taiwan with the world.
The JTCA and JCC also have the wider goals of increasing other people’s understanding of Jewish culture and history and connecting with the global Jewish community. The former is key to strengthening relationships with the Taiwanese and the foreigners who live here. The latter is to offer Jewish visitors a place to come while they are in Taiwan and to share the wonderful experiences of living in Taiwan with the world.
The museum collection at the JCC is an eclectic mix of over 400 items ranging from Jewish paintings and sketches, photographs from the early days of the Zionist movement and the founding of Israel to beautiful kippahs from around the world which show the same religion but with different cultural decorations. During the guided tour I learned a lot of interesting facts. For instance, I had heard of the Torah, but never seen a copy and I never knew that all copies are handwritten on one continuous scroll. Here you can see several Torahs on display. I also discovered there are Mezuzah (pieces of parchment with verses from the Torah) fixed in all the doorways as is the tradition in any Jewish home. Finally, in the ballroom is a magnificent two-meter-high mural by Chilean artist Mauricio Avayu featuring scenes from the Book of Genesis. It is full of small details that you don’t see at first glance such as the Chinese names of Mr Schwartz and Na Tang which have been cleverly placed in the picture. Eight more murals are on their way so the full story of Genesis will be on display. If you are interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish traditions then join me on 25th May when the Community Services Center will visit the JCC for a guided tour. We’ll also have the chance to enjoy lunch there and learn all about exactly what keeping a restaurant kosher entails. This is the perfect example for sharing knowledge and connecting communities that both the CSC and JCC aspire to.
Lucy Torres

Lucy Torres is the
Programs Manager at
The Center and enjoys
organising different
activities and events
that cover topics from
Taiwanese culture to environmental
awareness.

Images:

The Jeffery D. Schwartz Jewish Community Center

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