Shanghai has a surprisingly rich Jewish history, from the Sephardic Jews, who first put down roots in the mid-nineteenth century (among them were such famous names as the Sassoons and the Kadoories, who left a legacy of their own in buildings like the Peace Hotel, Hamilton House, and the Children’s Palace) to a wave of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Russia in the decades that followed. It was to service that latter community that the Ohel Moishe Synagogue (Moxi Huitang) was first built in 1927.
During the Second World War, Shanghai was one of very few places in the world that would accept Jewish refugees, and some 25,000 arrived in the city between 1937 and 1941. When the Japanese invaded, the Jewish community were forcibly resettled to a small area surrounding the synagogue and issued special papers restricting their movement. As a result, the area became known as the Jewish Ghetto.
The three-storey synagogue has since been carefully restored, though it’s no longer an active place of worship. Instead it plays host to a powerful exhibition on the struggles of these “stateless Jews.” An introductory film plays in the museum at the back, after which you can explore the synagogue itself. Climb to the top floor for a moving collection of photographs.
The museum is well worth visiting in its own right, but is best combined with a wander through the surrounding streets, for the chance to see what else remains of the area’s Jewish connection (including the one-time home of former US Treasury Secretary Mike Blumenthal, on adjacent Zhoushan Lu, and a Jewish memorial in Huoshan Park at the bottom of the same street). Sadly, much of the area is subject to an ongoing “regeneration” project, and it’s by no means clear how much longer this legacy will survive.