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Jews Will Never Forget Harbin: Envoy
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Yehoyada Haim has been in China for five years as Ambassador of Israel, but regrets not having visited more cities in the country.


However, this is his sixth visit to Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.


He has a deep attachment for this northern city, which once provided shelter for thousands of Jews fleeing from atrocities.


"Harbin is a place I feel at home," he said.


This strong bond originates from a time in history Jews will never forget.


From the late 19th to mid 20th century, more 20,000 Jews fled to Harbin to escape the anti-Jewry tide in Russia and elsewhere in Europe.


They were treated well in Harbin, and contributed to its development from a small town into a metropolitan city, said Qu Wei, president of the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences.


"The Chinese and Jews built a deep friendship here, and it has received worldwide recognition," Qu said.


Though Haim has no close ties with Harbin, he said its history with the Jews always fascinates him.


"What Harbin has done does not have a parallel in the world. I don't think there is another city which has a Jewish cemetery, a Jewish synagogue, and honors the legacy of the Jewish community as Harbin does," he said.


The Huangshan Jewish cemetery in the city is the biggest in the Far East. More than 600 Jews are buried there.


The incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid a visit to his father's grave in the cemetery in 2004.


Though all the Jews who once lived in Harbin returned to Israel when the country was established, they are still willing to be known as "Harbin Jews."


As a Jew and an ambassador, Haim said he is doing his best to encourage Israel companies to return and invest in Heilongjiang.


"I take every opportunity to tell Israelis that there is a city, Harbin, in China, that once helped the Jews," he said.


With his help, an Israeli company built greenhouses in the province last year. Another company is planning to invest in a dairy farm.


Haim said he recently introduced an Israeli businessman to government officials of Heilongjiang. The businessman wants to invest 2 billion yuan (US$258 million) in the province.


That is only the first stage of potential investments amounting to 10 billion yuan, he said.


"I have fulfilled my job," said Haim, who will end his tenure in the country this summer and return to Israel.


He said he might take up a teaching job and probably write a book about China.


"Of course, I will come to China again as long as I am invited," Haim said.


(China Daily June 19, 2007)

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