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 by Charles D. Segal

As we are all observing the holiest period of our Jewish calendar, it is a time of reflection and remembrance. For centuries the tradition of visiting the grave sites of loved ones is an integral part of our high holiday observance. There was nothing unusual about my presence in a cemetery as I have   participated in my community Kever Avot service for over 30 years. What was unique this year is I am in the Xindu Cemetery in Chengdu, China paying respect to my wife, Shelly’s father, General Zhang Tong Cai. 

In China, the manner of disposition is cremation. When General Zhang died unexpectedly in 2005, he lied in state for a week which was atypical but because of his rank, they allowed more time for Shelly to travel home. Now, I stand at his cremorial in a beautiful Temple cemetery with Shelly, her mom and siblings as we pay Kavod to his memory. 

As we provided the appropriate rituals of their traditions, I saw the similarities of those familiar to me in Judaism. Not necessarily in the physical components but in what was expressed. 

As we arrived at his site, the family tended to cleaning the black granite and setting up the items offering a spiritual tribute for compassion on his soul. His generation wasn’t encouraged to recognize any religion or concept of “God” but they maintained a strong sense of the ideals and values that are the basis of religion.

We arranged flowers in large vases and set an offering on his ledger consisting of different types of fruit. Candles and several  incense sticks were lit and placed gently at his site and many surrounding sites as a symbol of equality. Then the family all participated in burning paper offerings symbolizing currency. This gesture was an appeal for sustenance and abundance for the family who have survived him. Asking for his approval and appeal in their behalf. Once everything was in place the family stood before his cremorial and Shelly recited Chinese words translated meaning, “Peace, happiness, eternal rest and asking his guidance for the continued love and unification of the family.” As we stood for a moment in silent contemplation, through Shelly’s interpretation, I asked her family for permission to say a prayer in my religion for her father. They all stood silently as I recited the El Molei Rachamim prayer.  Her family expressed their approval and thanks for my contribution in paying homage to this great man. 

 The Chinese have a respect and affinity for the Jewish people. As I meet my wife’s family and many of the friends from her past, the response when they learn of my Jewish background has been received as a very favorable and admirable attribute. During a dinner conversation last evening, Shelly’s friend, a local television producer expressed his admiration of Judaism. I was surprised at his knowledge of many favorable contributions to China by Israel. When we left the restaurant, Shelly turned to me and said, “ Wow! I think I should introduce you as my “Jewish husband” when I introduce you.” We wish all our friends a beautiful New Year of reflection, adventure and peace.

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