The Bat Mitzvah Tutor of Beijing

Colorful Coming of Age Ceremonies in China's Capital

Family Time: Julian Grant (second from left, with partner Peter Lighte) says that his family minted their own “Sino Judaica” with the bat mitzvahs of their daughters Tillie (far left) and Hattie.
Ray Deng
Family Time: Julian Grant (second from left, with partner Peter Lighte) says that his family minted their own “Sino Judaica” with the bat mitzvahs of their daughters Tillie (far left) and Hattie.

By Alison Klayman

Published January 06, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Most people don’t know what to picture when I tell them that I was very active in the Beijing Jewish community when I lived in China from 2006 to 2010. They can’t seem to envision what Jewish-in-China looks like. Is it a minyan of all Chinese Jews? A Chabad rabbi wrangling businessmen and college kids together for a free Sabbath meal and shots of schnapps?

Beijing is a unique outpost. There, the liberal Kehillat Beijing community has been around since 1979, more than two decades before Chabad arrived. Kehillat Beijing is a diverse community of expats from all over the world. Some families have Chinese members, too. Its egalitarian services mean that a girl can read from the Torah, but its lay-led organization means there isn’t a rabbi to teach her.

That’s how I became the Bat Mitzvah Tutor of Beijing. My four years in China overlapped with the bat mitzvahs of five amazing young women who for one reason or another were living in Beijing as they came of age. I am so proud to have taught them to lead services and chant their Torah and haftorah portions.

Each of their families had a different story for why they came to Beijing. The Lindheimers came from Seattle when father David was doing a stint in Microsoft’s Beijing office. Sisters Mia and Sophie have a lot of energy. During the Beijing Paralympic Games we went together to see track and field events in the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium. Our faces adorned with heart-shaped American flag stickers, we snuck down to the lowest level with a giant flag in tow. But by the end of the night, the girls were leading the local fans in “Let’s go, China!” cheers in Mandarin.

Their few years in Beijing were a great family adventure, capped by a joint bat mitzvah with a nighttime party at the Wall. Not the Kotel — the Great Wall of China. Their mom, Lauren, spent months putting together the event, which included a cantor flown in from Philadelphia and a local Samba band.

The Lindheimers had attended Hebrew school in the States and had been to other bat mitzvahs at their synagogue back home. Iana Weingrad, who in February 2009 was the first of my students to ascend the bimah, didn’t have that reference point. The daughter of a Chinese Buddhist mother and an American Jewish father, she was born in Hong Kong and has lived in Beijing her whole life.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.