When you think of a thriving Jewish community, the first location that comes to mind probably isn’t the tiny enclave of Taiwan. But, that’s the reality for Taiwan’s small yet proud Jewish community of approximately 700 people.
The island is home to the Jeffrey D. Schwartz Jewish Community Center of Taiwan. It was opened in 2021 after five years of construction, and today serves both - the local community and tourists.
While many Jewish communities around the world have a long and rich history, Taiwan’s Jewish story goes back only as far as the 20th century, largely thanks to the presence of the U.S. military.
As the community grew in the years that followed, Rabbi Ephraim Einhorn formally established the Taiwan Jewish Community in 1977, becoming the first rabbi to serve in Taiwan. He continued serving the community, holding services at the Landis Hotel until the community was able to open their own center. Sadly, Rabbi Einhorn passed away in 2021, but his legacy lives on.
In the heart of Taipei today sits the Jeffrey D. Schwartz Jewish Community Center of Taiwan, fully funded by the Jeffrey D. Schwartz & NaTang Jewish Taiwan Cultural Association (JTCA).
The structure is home to the only mikveh in all of Taiwan, a kosher culinary lab and kitchen, a 300-person ballroom, classroom, library, and a museum of Judaica and Jewish art containing over 400 rare items from Jewish communities around the world.
Additionally, there is a stunning synagogue above the museum and restaurant, which holds regular Shabbat services led by the Chabad rabbi, and attendance peaks during high holidays.
Its founder, Jeffrey Schwartz, said the inspiration for the center was rooted in a desire to not only provide a home for the Jewish community in Taiwan, but also to educate the non-Jews about Judaism, and build bridges throughout the country.
Schwartz, who is originally from Ohio and is fluent in Chinese, and is married to popular Taiwanese actress and singer NaTang. He has lived in Taiwan for over 50 years and despite not being Orthodox himself, wanted to provide an accurate picture of what traditional Jewish life looked like throughout the ages and introduce the world of Judaism in Taiwan.
His efforts clearly are successful as the stunning community center is also a popular tourist attraction and delicious kosher restaurant frequented by many Taiwanese seeking to learn more about the Jewish people, whom they view primarily as successful and intelligent.
In fact, unlike the rest of the world, Taiwan is what Schwartz calls “the least antisemitic country in the world.” Ask around Taiwan and you will see that many Taiwanese have profound respect for the Jewish people, as well as the State of Israel.
Schwartz adds, “our goal here at the Jewish Community Center is to keep it that way…people often wonder why I care when we’re not antisemitic, and I feel that it’s important we get ahead of this issue because it's too late once it happens.”
Schwartz explains that while some may have stereotypical views of Jews due to a lack of familiarity with Judaism, what they do know, they admire rather than despise.
“The bad thing is they know very little about us, but the good thing is if you ask them about Jews they’re going to say either they’re all brilliant scholars like Albert Einstein or wealthy like the Rothschilds…so they have positive stereotypes,” explains Schwartz.
The Jewish community center gives Taiwanese an opportunity to learn about Jewish customs worldwide, from Kashrut to circumcision, as well as Israeli history from the Balfour declaration to the modern-day Israel.
“We’re blessed that they have a positive image of us now, but it’s more important that they get the real story, and I’m so glad that our community center is engaging the public through education,” says Schwartz.
On Taiwanese attitudes towards Israel, Schwatz explains, “Here, I don’t know anybody that isn’t pro-Israel.”
The JCTA community center has also made tremendous efforts in recent years to promote Holocaust education, at both the individual and state level. In 2021, they held a Holocaust memorial event, which was attended by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
A tour of the community center takes about an hour and a half, and includes numerous educational stops teaching visitors Jewish history, customs and traditions. The staff is a mixture of both Jewish and non-Jewish community members passionate about Judaism and education.
Bridging these gaps is a core part of Schwartz’s vision for a future free of the antisemitism, which has plagued the West and the Middle East for centuries. However, Schwartz and the community in Taiwan is also committed to many projects globally for the benefit of the Jewish community.
“I want the world to know that there’s a Jewish community that cares not just about Taiwan, but about the Jews in the U.S. and Israel…anything to do with Judaism and education. My goal is to put the Jewish Community Center of Taiwan on the map.”