In the 1890s, the Trans-Siberian Railway turned a small fishing village in northeastern China into a thriving city, shaped by the interaction of Jews, Russians, Chinese and others. But by the early 1960s the last Jewish families had left Harbin, and its once-flourishing Jewish life of synagogues, schools, a hospital and more as they immigrated to the United States, Israel and elsewhere. Despite the anti-Semitism that led to this exile, many descendants have warm nostalgic feelings, typified by Irene Clurman who has created a compendium of images and stories at kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/harbin.
A recent appreciation for “roots” tourism has spurred the restoration and commemoration of the Jewish history of Harbin, also renowned for its spectacular ice sculptures. Now the Lower East Side Eldridge Street synagogue is hosting an exhibition documenting Harbin’s Jewish past in historic photographs and personal stories. The show was spurred by—and is also showing small works by—New York artist Steven Lane who has been making art in Harbin since 1985, often using the former synagogue, which now serves as a museum and temporary studio space. Through October 4. eldridgestreet.org/harbinchina