PEPPER, SILK & IVORY
Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East
Rabbi Marvin Tokayer & Ellen Rodman, PhD
There is a missing page in Jewish history. We always assume that 4,000 years of Jewish history is in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and the Americas, not in the Far East. PEPPER, SILK & IVORY has found that missing page and tells the amazing stories of Jews who both benefitted from and contributed to the Far East, now such an important part of the world politically and economically.
Who would believe the story of the Jewish juvenile delinquent who went on to become a general in the Chinese Army and was frequently referred to as the “uncrowned Jewish king of China?” Who would believe that a youngster who decorated bric-a-brac with shells he obtained from sailors would go on to found Shell Oil, create the vessel called a tanker to transport oil safely and efficiently and beat John D. Rockefeller in the oil business? And who would believe that a Jewish man educated at Princeton and fluent in many languages would go on to be a well-known baseball player and also an amazing spy for the United States during World War II?
Then there is Beate Sirota Gordon who, as the only woman in the room when America was drafting a new constitution for Japan during the Occupation, refused to give up until her articles giving rights to women and children for the first time were included in the final document. And you will be both surprised and moved by the amazing story of Rabbi Arnold Fischel who persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to sign a law that enabled rabbis to serve in the military as chaplains, and you will learn how invaluable rabbis were years later when they served in the Far East from Iwo Jima to the bridge on the River Kwai. You may think you know the story of the Jews in China, but until you read the stories of the Kadoorie, Sassoon and Hardoon families, as well as the stories of the indefatigable Laura Margolis and some of the refugees themselves who not only survived but also triumphed, you really don’t know the whole story.
You will be amused by the comedy of errors surrounding the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng in the early 17th century and also amused by Emily Hahn, a smart, eccentric Jewish writer who introduced China to the West and never went anywhere without Mr. Mills, her pet gibbon wearing his diaper and tuxedo. The Jews in Chairman Mao Zedong’s circle served him in many ways from being his sex therapist, to being his doctors, dentist and poker buddies. And the Jewish musicians in Japan, China and the Philippines not only flourished but also changed the music landscape in both the East and the West.
You will learn the amazing story of Garcia d’Orta, the militant Marrano doctor in India in the 1500s. More recently, Jews were beauty queens and part of Bollywood in India, and one Jewish woman became the famous guru in India known as “The Mother.” Not many people know that the first Chief Minister of Singapore also was the president of the Jewish community, nor do they know why the synagogue in Burma had 126 Torahs. And you can decide for yourself whether Sir Marc Aurel Stein was a great Jewish explorer or an imperialist thief when you read about the amazing sealed cave library in China.
These little-known stories about the Jews and Asians show us that people of different races, religions and cultures can not only help each other, but also they can live in peace and leave the world a better place than they found it. An Italian proverb says, “If it isn’t true, then it’s a good story,” but that’s not correct. While some of the stories in PEPPER, SILK & IVORY are anecdotal and may have been embellished in the course of being passed down through the generations, all of them -- whether from ancient, medieval or modern times -- are true, captivating, compelling, colorful and amazing, and they will both surprise and delight you.