We always assume that 4,000 years of Jewish history took place in the Middle East, North Africa and the Americas, not in the Far East, but that is not correct. In Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East, the authors reveal an important missing page in Jewish history.
Who would believe the story of the Jewish juvenile delinquent who went on to become a general in the Chinese Army and was frequently referred to as the “uncrowned Jewish king of China?” Who would believe that a Jewish youngster who decorated bric-a-brac with shells he obtained from sailors returning from the Far East to the docks on the East End of London would go on to found Shell Oil, create the vessel called a tanker to transport oil safely and efficiently and beat John D. Rockefeller in the oil business?
And who would believe that a Jewish man educated at Princeton and fluent in many languages would go on to become a well-known baseball player and also an amazing spy for the United States beginning with a trip to Japan?
Then there is the Jewish woman who, as the only woman in the room when Americans were drafting a new constitution for the Japanese during the Occupation, refused to give up until her articles giving rights to women and children for the first time in Japan were included in the final document? And the reader will be both surprised and moved by the amazing story of the rabbi who persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to sign a law that
enabled rabbis to serve in the military as chaplains, and you will learn how invaluable rabbis were years later when they served in the Far East from Iwo Jima to the bridge over the River Kwai.
You may think you know the story of the Jews in China, but until you read the stories of the Kadoorie, Sassoon and Hardoon families, as well as the stories of the indefatigable woman who was the right person to help the Jewish refugees and of the refugees themselves who not only survived but triumphed, you really don’t know the whole story.
The comedy of errors surrounding the Jews of Kaifeng in the early 17th century will amuse you, as will the story of the smart, eccentric Jewish writer who introduced China to the West and never went anywhere without Mr. Mills, her pet gibbon wearing his diaper and tuxedo. The Jews in Chairman Mao Zedong’s inner circle served him in many ways from being his sex therapist, to being his doctors, dentist and poker buddiAnd the Jewish musicians in Japan, China and the Philippines not only flourished but also changed the music landscape in both the East and the West.
You will learn the amazing story of the militant Marrano doctor in India in the 1500s, whose book, published in 1563, created the same excitement that surrounded
the discovery of penicillin in the 1930s. More recently, Jews were beauty queens and and an integral part of India’s Bollywood, and one Jewish woman became the famous guru known as “The Mother” who founded an ashram that still thrives in Pondicherry, India. Not many people know that the first Chief Minister of Singapore also was the president of the Jewish community, nor do they know why the synagogue in Burma had 126 Torahs. And you can decide for yourself whether the Jewish archeologist/explorer who found the oldest Hebrew document written on paper rather than on parchment was a hero or an imperialist thief when you read about the amazing sealed cave library in China.
So there is no doubt that Asia was once such an important part of Jewish history, and the future for Jews is again no longer in Europe. Asia is now so important to Jews and the world both economically and politically. The stories we have highlighted, and the many other little-known stories about the Jews and Asians that we tell in Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East, remind us that people of different races, religions and cultures can not only help each other, but also they can live in peace and leave the world a better place than they found it.
About the Authors
Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, a Great Neck resident, was a U.S. Air Force chaplain stationed in southern Japan in 1962. He returned in 1968 and served until 1976 as the only English-speaking, university-educated rabbi for the Jewish communities in the Far East. He coauthored (with Mary Swartz) The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews during World War II.
Dr. Ellen Rodman is a writer and television producer and is president of LN Productions LLC. The former New York Times family entertainment reviewer, Dr. Rodman coauthored (with Richard Flaste) The New York Times Guide to Children’s Entertainment, is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles and she has written for several anthologies.