Jul 17, 2006
Shanghai, China---On Sunday, July 16, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, an American ecumenical leader and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation known for his work promoting religious freedom, peace, and inter-religious dialogue, finished a one-week official visit to China. In meetings with government officials, religious leaders, and academics in Beijing and Shanghai, Rabbi Schneier discussed religion in China and China’s growing role in world affairs.
In Beijing, Rabbi Schneier was received at the Foreign Ministry by Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who assured him that China is committed to stability on the Korean peninsula and a constructive role in the Middle East. In meetings with Vice Minister of Ethnic and Religious Affairs Li Dezhu and Director General of the State Administration for Religious Affairs Ye Xiaowen, Rabbi Schneier discussed how China is preparing to meet the spiritual needs of the many athletes and visitors expected in conjunction with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In addition to preparing the churches, mosques, and temples already serving believers from China’s five officially recognized religions—Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, and Daoism—relevant departments within the Chinese government have agreed to work with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to ensure that the needs of adherents to other faith traditions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, and Greek and Russian Orthodoxy, are met.
Rabbi Schneier’s meetings in Shanghai focused on the past and present situation of the city’s Jews. Mayor Han Zheng assured Rabbi Schneier that the Ohel Rachel Synagogue has been placed on the city’s registry of historical buildings, and he is committed to working with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to restore the building’s exterior and interior and to make it functional for use by 2007, when Shanghai will host the International Special Olympics. The head of the Shanghai Bureau of Religious Affairs, Zhou Fuchang, in cooperation with the Mayor’s office, will assist in the implementation of the synagogue renovation project. Until 1998, the Ohel Rachel Synagogue building was used as a storage facility for the Ministry of Education. The then-Mayor of Shanghai oversaw an effort to refurbish the synagogue, which was founded in 1929 and had been used by Shanghai’s Jewish community when the city offered refuge to tens of thousands of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. At the 1998 ceremony celebrating the building’s restoration, which was attended by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and the Vice-Mayor of Shanghai, Rabbi Schneier brought with him a Torah scroll as a gift to the small Jewish community (now numbering 1,500) from his Park East Synagogue in New York.
The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a coalition of religious and business leaders, since 1965 has worked on behalf of religious freedom, human rights and tolerance. The Foundation’s first interfaith mission to China was in 1981. In 1998, Rabbi Schneier was one of three American religious leaders appointed by President Clinton to enter into the first religious dialogue with President Jiang Zemin and Chinese government officials.