From around the world and around the country, many who have enjoyed a joyous Jewish welcome during travels or residence in the Orient came to honor the dedication of Rabbi Mordechai and Rebbitzein Goldie Avtzon who, in 1984, established L.I.F.E. – Lubavitch In the Far East – to serve the multi-cultural Jewish community. Local residents, Israelis, travelers, and businessmen and women, Ashkenazy and Sephardic, have had a Chabad haven during travels or residence in the Far East for a quarter century.
Benefactors and beneficiaries gathered at New York’s St. Regis Hotel Wednesday, February 16 / 12 Adar Alef, to celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of the Chabad Asia presence in the Far East. The evening recognized their important involvement and support through honors given to three couples who have been builders of the community: fashion icon Max Azria received the Builder’s Award; the Partner’s Award was presented to Isaac and Julie Gniwisch; and Mel and Marcia Waxman were honored with the Leadership Award.
The “combined Jewish communities of Asia” began with the Hong Kong site of the first China Chabad Center. Directed to the Far East by the Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, the Avtzon’s began their schlihot 25 years ago. A quarter century later, there are Chabad centers in Beijing, Guangzhou, Kowloon (Hong Kong), Nanshan District, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Tung Chung (Hong Kong) and Yiwu. During their tenure the number of Chabad synagogues, schools, and adjunct resources enhancing Jewish life in the Far-East has grown to more than 26.
China had a flourishing–albeit limited –Jewish life in centuries past. The city of Harbin China’s Northeast had a largely Russian Jewish population, established businesses and the first synagogue. (The local government of Harbin has established the Harbin Jews Research Centre and hopes to foster relationships. During World War II Shanghai provided shelter to thousands of Jews fleeing Europe’s conflagration.
The New York celebration is one of several focusing on the “Asia Anniversary” (a Tu B’shavat event in Hong Kong drew hundreds of members, admirers, and supporters). The evening’s Keynote speaker, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, is the founding National Director of American Friends of Lubavitch. Respectfully “teased” about what should be his appropriate appellation, Shemtov, known as the “Rebbe’s Ambassador to DC,” has extensive connections and friendships among the Washington political elite. He is a frequent visitor to the White House, and has worked with every president from Nixon to Obama.
The evening of the 16th was an especially personal opportunity for Rabbi Shemtov to shep nachas – Goldie Avtzon, co director of Chabad Asia is his daughter, and the evening coincided with the anniversary of his 74th birthday.