To­rah top­ics in Taipei

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - TRAVEL -

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

(Chabad Taipei/Courtesy)

RABBI SHLOMI TABIB lights Hanukkah can­dles at Taipei 101.

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