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A Chinese Shul’s Love Story

North Bank Suzhou Creek, a bilingual production set in wartime Shanghai, brings music back to a silent sanctuary

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Emilie Ohana (right) and Wang Jiajian play star-crossed lovers in North Bank Suzhou Creek, staged in Shanghai's former Ohel Moshe Synagogue.(Rebecca Kanthor)
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A Shul for Shanghai

Shanghai’s historic Ohel Rachel Synagogue was allowed to serve as a place of worship during the World Expo, which closes this week. Now what?

The former Ohel Moshe Synagogue in the northern Hongkou District of Shanghai was once the spiritual home of European Jews taking refuge during World War II. Most of those 20,000 refugees moved on after the war and the establishment of Communist China. These days, the synagogue forms part of the Jewish Refugees Museum; it’s sparsely furnished and usually quiet. (An exhibit on the community opens later this month in New York City.)

For a few weeks this past spring that changed, as the synagogue’s prayer hall was transformed into a wartime café, in which was set a historical drama called North Bank Suzhou Creek. (The play has since had a three-night run in New York City, and there are plans in the works for additional performances.) The production, a love story full of musical numbers, is by Chinese playwright William Sun and was co-directed by Michael Leibenluft and Jeffrey Sichel, both American. The six-person cast was a mix of French, British, Chinese, and American performers. Shanghai-based reporter Rebecca Kanthor visited the set during rehearsals and sold-out performances and talked to the actors and directors about the pleasures and pains of putting on a bilingual, bi-cultural production of this kind. [Running time: 7:51.]

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A Chinese Shul’s Love Story

North Bank Suzhou Creek, a bilingual production set in wartime Shanghai, brings music back to a silent sanctuary

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