Torah topics in Taipei
There are only three certainties in life – death, taxes... and the presence of a Chabad House anywhere in the world you happen to be. Taiwan is no exception, as I found out on my recent trip, when I had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Shlomi Tabib, who has been stationed in Taipei, the country’s capital, for nine years.
“I grew up in Israel in a Bnei Akiva-style home,” said Tabib. “I became very attracted to the Lubavitch movement, and after completing my army service I spent time learning in Belgium, and then for a year in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. My wife, Racheli, and I spent three years in Hong Kong before moving to Taiwan, and we have been very happy here.”
Rabbi Tabib explained that the Jewish community in Taiwan consists of about 750-1,000 people (out of a total population of 24 million), most of whom are academics, diplomats or American and Israeli business representatives. There are also plenty of Jewish tourists passing through, as well as corporate travelers and, of course, Israelis selling Dead Sea cosmetics.
“There are very few permanent residents in Taiwan who are observant Jews – keeping kosher and Shabbat,” said Rabbi Tabib, who is really the only source of Jewish life in the country. “But we do have a minyan and meals every Saturday at the Chabad House, we conduct weekly Torah classes for men and women, and we send kosher meals to hotels upon request.
“A month ago, with cooperation from the local customs authority, we received a huge shipment of kosher food from America – plenty of chicken, turkey and a lot of other products. Beef is harder to get permission to import, but we are working on it.”
There is a very limited selection of kosher-certified products in the local stores – Häagen-Dazs ice cream under OU supervision being a notable exception – but vegetables and fruits are plentiful, and there is an abundance of vegetarian and vegan options, as a decent portion of the country abides by such diets.
The Taiwanese people – while predominantly unfamiliar with Judaism and its practices – are very kind, courteous and accepting of Jews, and Tabib noted that the government has been very generous in accommodating the community’s religious needs.
“We are in the midst of building a large Jewish center here in Taipei, which will include a mikveh, a kosher restaurant and a large shul. Property in the city is extremely expensive – in the tens of millions of dollars – and we have received large public subsidies to lease a government-owned building through the nonprofit organization I set up. We hope to open it in the next couple of months.”
The Chabad House runs numerous holiday events for the Jewish community, as well as for the local Taiwanese population, throughout the year.
“On Hanukkah, in particular, there is a big emphasis on spreading God’s message to the public. We erect a huge menorah right outside of Taipei 101 [at 510 meters high, the world’s tallest inhabited building] and have a festive candle-lighting every night that is attended by hundreds, if not thousands, of people.”
Antisemitism is not something that the 35-year-old Tabib has ever experienced in Taiwan, something that he does not take for granted.
“I was recently in New York at a convention of Chabad shluchim [emissaries] from all around the world. My European, and even North American, counterparts were envious of me and of how good we have it here in Taiwan, compared to other places where the people are not as nice to Jews. I feel very blessed with my situation.”
The Tabibs home-school their six children and have a Taiwanese woman come to their house to help out with secular subjects. They also take advantage of the global Chabad online educational platform. The Chabad House also offers a Sunday Hebrew school, coordinated by Racheli with assistance from volunteers, and there a few dozen children currently enrolled, aged two to 12.
“All in all, our children are very happy here. You could say that perhaps it would be easier for us to raise our family in Israel or in a city with a larger Jewish community, but we are here on a mission from the rebbe and from Hashem. We all take extreme pride in our role to help maintain Jewish life here in Taiwan. I couldn’t imagine anything more fulfilling.” – U.S.
For more information on the Jewish community of Taiwan, and for assistance if traveling to the country, visit www.jewish.tw or contact [email protected]ish.tw
RABBI SHLOMI TABIB lights Hanukkah candles at Taipei 101.