A Chinese Jew joins the IDF

A Chinese Jew joins the IDF

Tony (middle) just prior to his IDF induction

Tony (middle) just prior to his IDF induction

He’s in the army now: Tony (Hoshea) Liang is the latest Chinese Jew to join the Israel Defense Forces.

Six years ago, Shavei Israel helped seven young Chinese men make aliyah from the ancient Jewish community in Kaifeng. Gidon Fan and Yonatan Xue have already completed their army service while Moshe Li still has a few months to go (and likes army life so much he wants to sign on for more time).

Tony, the youngest of the seven – he was just 18 when they arrived in Israel – enlisted in mid-December and will serve for six months, the first three of which will be an intensive Hebrew ulpan with an emphasis on the terminology he’ll need to succeed in the army. It will be a return of sorts to the beginning of his time in Israel, when Tony and his Chinese Jewish friends studied at the ulpan of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. That was followed by several years of yeshiva study in Jerusalem, before the seven men all formally converted to Judaism under the auspices of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate two years ago.

Since then they have pursued different career and professional paths. Yonatan used his time in the army to solidify the skills he learned in China towards becoming a dental assistant. Tony meanwhile began a career in the hospitality industry, working at first in a local hotel and most recently leading tours for Chinese groups visiting the Holy Land – a job he hopes to continue once he’s discharged from the military.

Jews have lived in Kaifeng, once one of the capitals of imperial China, for over a thousand years, arriving originally as merchants from Persia or Iraq plying their trade along the fabled Silk Route. We have more about the community and its history here on our website.

We’ve written about Tony before. In 2012, we described Tony’s meeting at the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court where he was asked, “what would be the blessing on an eggroll.” Tony didn’t understand the question – it turns out that the Chinese, at least those in remote Kaifeng, don’t eat eggrolls, it’s a western variation on Asian food – but once the judge opened his laptop, did a Google search for “eggroll” and showed Tony the picture, Tony immediately got the blessing right – which was a good thing because two of Tony’s friends told us that they’d like to open a Chinese restaurant in Israel someday.

Will Tony join them in pursuit of the perfect Chinese eggroll? Probably not, although he says he would be happy if the army would train him to work as a cook. He’ll only have three months to perfect his skills in the kitchen now, but it will allow him to make a delicious contribution during his annual reserve duty.

We have a couple of before and after pictures of Tony below – as he’s going into the army and a few days later, proudly wearing his IDF greens.

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Brian Blum
Brian Blum
brianblum@gmail.com