Eighty students from across China gather for ICJS seminar in Jinan, July 2018

Over two weeks in July 2018, the Centre for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University in Jinan, China, held a summer school on the Holocaust and Jewish Studies. The first part, held over 15– 20 July, was co-sponsored and co-organised with the International Centre for Jewish Studies in London.

ICJS was founded in 2015 in part to continue the work undertaken by the former London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) to provide Holocaust and Jewish education in China and other parts of Asia, as well as in Eastern Europe. The LJCC had a long history of offering summer schools on the Holocaust and Jewish history at Chinese universities, starting from at least 2006. There were led initially by Jerry Gotel ז״ל, Joanna Millan and Trudy Gold, and later joined also by Glenn Timmermans from the University of Macau.

As in previous years, the seminar sought to introduce those students new to the subject with a basic knowledge of the Holocaust, but also its context within Jewish history while at the same time offering more advanced teaching for students already studying at one the ever-increasing centres for Jewish Studies in China.

This year – in addition to classes taught by Joanna Millan, Trudy Gold and Glenn Timmermans – Wolfgang Kaiser, from the Wannsee House in Berlin, who had taught at some previous seminars, was able to join again. For the first time, Professor Gideon Reuveni, Director of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex, featured, providing a number of lectures on Germany before the War. He was very warmly received by students and teachers alike and it is to be hoped that both he and the Centre for German-Jewish Studies, will be able to play a greater role in these summer schools in the years ahead.

Over the first week of the seminar, students were taught about the long history of anti-Semitism, its origins in early Christian society, the rise of a Jewish presence in Europe and events leading up to the First World War, the rise of Hitler and the Shoah itself.  Additional seminars on Jewish costume and Jewish literature were also held.  Joanna Millan, a survivor of Theresienstadt, spoke about her struggle to trace the story of her family after the war and students were profoundly moved to meet and engage with her.

Regular participants in this programme were struck by the continued improvement of students’ language level; in earlier years a translator provided consecutive interpretation to the audience, but now all could manage with a high degree of English complexity.  Similarly, subject knowledge among students was already very high and this allowed stimulating discussion during and after class, over the lunch table and in tea breaks. The vast majority of the eighty students participating were studying for MA and PhD degrees in the wider area of Jewish Studies while some were still looking for a subject to pursue. As in previous years, they came from all over China, itself an endorsement of the programme’s reputation in China.

During the second week of the seminar various Chinese professors in Jewish Studies – history, religion, philosophy, literature – held classes and lectures and these were all conducted in Chinese. The eighty students stayed throughout and feedback on the whole programme was overwhelmingly positive.

 

In memory of Jerry Gotel, z’l

Jerry and aid Dr RosenfeldJerold ‘Jerry’ Gotel, who died in London in October, was a pioneering Jewish educator and historian, who, among other things, helped to return Jewish learning and Jewish culture to the place of its destruction in eastern Europe, and almost single-handedly created Jewish studies in China.

He was born in January 1946 to Holocaust survivors in New York City. He received a Yeshiva education before studying at Brooklyn College, and later at Pembroke College, Oxford, and the Sorbonne in Paris.

It was an unusual path to take for a man raised in the Orthodox world of Yiddishkeit, but Jerold was unusual, and he took New York City with him to Europe; in the 1980s he established an American restaurant on what was then the wasteland of London’s south bank. Visitors to this gloomy area were surprised to see, twinkling from the window of a converted Victorian house, a neon sign: American Bar and Grill. This was Studio Six, the first of his successful restaurants, although East of the Sun, West of the Moon, whose menu was based on a fusion of Asian and eastern European cuisine, inspired by an historical Jewish community living in China – which only he had heard of – was not the success he hoped. But if Jerry dreamt and lost, he laughed; he knew too much history to be hurt by small things.

If restaurants were his business, scholarship was where his heart lay. In the early 1980s, his passion for Jewish history led to his becoming involved with the nascent Spiro Institute, later the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC). His encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Judaism and Jewish history, and his electric personality, made him a superb teacher. As the Spiro Institute developed a Modern Jewish History program at schools such as Eton, Harrow and St Paul’s Boys School, Jerry became integral to its teaching. He taught adults and students all over the country.

Besides teaching British children and adults, Jerold and his colleagues were asked by Sir Martin Gilbert, whose visa had been revoked, if a dozen teachers, each going once a year, could go to Russia and to teach Jewish history to refuseniks. Jerry’s allocated subject was Zionism. He gave lectures in Moscow and St Petersburg in private homes. But he was betrayed and hauled into KGB headquarters where, after an uncomfortable interview, he was told to be a tourist. Jerry’s charisma was often effective in thwarting the bureaucrats of the former Soviet Union. He was proud that his exploits were written up in a Russian newspaper, where he was accused of propagating nationalism amongst the minorities.  He also took children from deprived backgrounds to the death camps, to teach them about prejudice.

As the LJCC developed an overseas program, Jerry was perfectly positioned to become its director. He began to mastermind teacher training about the Shoah in Poland. When the International Task Force for Holocaust Education was created (now known as IHRA), the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office asked Jerry to be part of the British delegation. He pioneered the first ever Task Force seminar. The object was to train teachers in those countries where the Shoah had occurred, but had little education around the subject. This was phenomenally successful; and it took a man of great resilience and optimism to do it. Some of today’s members of the Polish delegation were originally trained by Jerry.

The success of Jerry’s work led to further seminars in the Ukraine and Belarus. The LJCC would bring in experts from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Yad Vashem, the Wansee House in Berlin, and the Anne Frank House in Holland. Jerry also helped to pioneer the very successful tours program, taking adult students of Jewish history to sites throughout Europe.

There was nobody quite like him, and he was a man to whom strange things happened. In Bialystok, just after the fall of Communism, Jerry was approached by an old man. He had seen that the men of the group were wearing kippot, and began speaking to Jerry in Yiddish. The man told Jerold that he was a Ko’hen, that he had married the Catholic woman who hid him during the war, and insisted that all thirty of the group visit his apartment. In his tiny, modest home, this Jewish man, who had not spoken to another Jew since the war, pronounced the priestly blessing, beneath a portrait of the Pope.

Fifteen years ago, the Hong Kong expatriate Jewish community decided to commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah. They had borrowed exhibits from the Sydney Holocaust Museum, but had no educator. Jerry stepped up, and was surprised to discover that a thousand Chinese people a day were coming to see the exhibition. It was at that time that he met Xu Xin, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Nanjing. This marked the beginning of Jerry’s last great work.

In the past 17 years, he was at the forefront of Jewish education in China. His legacy at Henan University, where he was an associate professor at the Centre for Jewish Studies, includes more than thirty students with PhDs in Jewish history; twelve with jobs in Chinese universities; the Shalom Library, the biggest collection of books in China on Jewish history; study of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; and the institution’s Centre for Jewish and Israel Studies, which has become the research base for Israel Studies designated by the Chinese Ministry of Education. Jerry was very proud of his Chinese students, and exceptionally fond of them.

Jerry was a founder trustee of the International Centre for Jewish Studies, created in 2016 to continue and develop this work in China and the wider East Asian region, following the merger of the LJCC into JW3.

Jerry adored his children Jared and Natalie, and was very close to them. Natalie describes her father as “larger than life. He left a powerful impression on everyone who met him.  His passion for knowledge and living made him outspoken, energetic, magnanimous, bold, defiant, inspiring, argumentative and, of course, he was always right. He was never a spectator, always impatient and could not help being the life and soul of many occasions”.

His background had made him a wanderer, but he loved London, where he died, in October.