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!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • 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.