Community Blog Shavuot in Hong Kong

By Sydney Gross
Hong Kong city scene

On the morning of Sunday, June 9, as his family and friends were in the midst of their evening Shavuot studies in Boston, Rabbi Or Rose was lecturing on his newest research project, “Rabbi Zalman Schachter‐Shalomi’s Interreligious Quest,” over a breakfast blintz bar in Hong Kong.

Rabbi Rose’s lecture was the last of a weekend-long learning session at The United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, a pluralistic, progressive synagogue that is home to a diverse community of Jews from around the world. Rabbi Rose, director of the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College, served as the congregation’s Scholar-in-Residence during the Shavuot holiday.

“Spending Shavuot in Hong Kong with the UJC was both an honor and a deeply meaningful experience,” Rabbi Rose said. “I thoroughly enjoyed learning with the community, sharing the wisdom of the Hasidic masters with an intelligent and engaged group of participants. Meeting people from diverse backgrounds and vocations all interested in spiritual growth was special.”

Each year for Shabbat and Shavuot, which is traditionally celebrated with study sessions, the UJC Hong Kong community invites a scholar from a different part of the world to teach. Rabbi Rose’s program, “Classic Hasidic Thought and the Modern Jew: Insights for Today’s Spiritual Seeker” invited participants to engage in text study, meditation, and personal reflection. Rabbi Rose found it particularly powerful to teach about his late mentor, Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi (d. 2014), a pioneering teacher of Jewish mysticism and spirituality, as well as interreligious dialogue.

Rabbi Rose teaches in a variety of academic, religious, and civic contexts throughout North America and abroad. His learning sessions in Hong Kong included a Shabbat evening presentation on the key personalities and spiritual innovations of the Hasidic movement entitled “Spiritual Revival: An Introduction to Hasidic Thought”; a Shabbat morning talk on “The Holiness of the Everyday: The Power of Hasidic Hanhagot (Spiritual Practices)”; and Shavuot sessions on “Sinai in the Hasidic Imagination: Teachings from the Great Maggid”; and “Story Telling as Revelation: The Tales of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav”; as well as “Rabbi Zalman Schachter‐Shalomi’s Interreligious Quest.”

Rabbi Rose is currently co-editing an anthology of the writings of Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi for Orbis Books (fall/winter 2019). The volume includes published and unpublished materials on prayer and other sacred Jewish practices; Hasidic and Neo-Hasidic thought; interfaith engagement; and spirituality across the lifespan. Rose is also completing two essays on interreligious education and leadership that are scheduled for publication in 2020. He recently published a reflection for Hebrew College’s 70 Faces of Torah series based on a teaching from Schachter-Shalomi.

The United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong was founded in 1988 by long-term residents of Hong Kong, “to advocate the cause of Reform, Liberal, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox Jews in Hong Kong.” Members come from the United States and Canada, as well as Israel, Britain, France, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and China, and include both long-term residents of Hong Kong, as well as individuals living in Hong Kong for a few years. The congregation is small but active, with about 200 members including families and individuals who work in business, journalism, education, and academia.

“As a first-time visitor to the area, I was excited to walk the streets of this fascinating metropolis with its unusual mix of culture, politics, history, and natural beauty,” Rabbi Rose said. “It was an unforgettable trip!”

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