Shanghai's Ohel Rachel Synagogue hosts first wedding in 60 years

By Erica Lyons
Managing Editor

Audery Ohana with her father, Maurice Ohana
Wedding blessings under the chupah

For the first time in sixty years, Shanghai’s historic Ohel Rachel Synagogue played host to a Jewish wedding ceremony, the marriage of community members Denis Gi’han and Audrey Ohana.

The bride, Audrey Ohana, has lived with her family in Shanghai for ten years. Her father Maurice Ohana, serves as president of the local Jewish community.

The wedding celebrations commenced on 11 March with a henna painting ceremony, a Moroccan custom, where henna is made and the bride and her guests are painted. A traditional mikvah party was held on 12 March.

The chupah was erected and the wedding itself was held on 13 March at Ohel Rachel, the historic synagogue once again played host to a Jewish wedding. Permission to use the synagogue for this event was granted by the Chinese government.

Over 250 guests, from around the world, were present to join in the festivities and be a part of history. Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, who serves as the Chabad emissary in Shanghai, officiated at the ceremony.

The significance of the event is very much tied to the history of the synagogue itself. While it is still a symbolic focal point of the Shanghai community, it fell under Chinese government control in 1952. Built originally in 1920 by Sir Jacob Elias Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew, Ohel Rachel once housed over 700 worshippers and boasted a collection of thirty Sifrei Torah.

Ohel Rachel was once one of seven synagogues in the Shanghai community. Today it is only one of two still standing and neither one is used for the purpose it was originally built for. The other, Ohel Moishe, located in the Hong Kew district houses a museum dedicated to memorialising the Jewish experience in Shanghai.


Following the flight of most of Shanghai’s Jews post-World War II, Ohel Rachel was emptied and converted into government office and storage space. The structure itself fell into disrepair, but its role in the history of the Shanghai Jews was not forgotten.

In 1993, the city of Shanghai declared Ohel Rachel to be a historic landmark, allowing it some level of protection. In 1998, the city made minor repairs, though not structural, to Ohel Rachel in order to prepare it for a visit from then-US first lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright.

The government allows the local Jewish community, numbering about three hundred, use of the premise on a limited number of special occasions.

The community and its worldwide supporters continue to hope that one day, this important piece of our heritage, will be returned to the Jewish community. They continue to hope that Ohel Rachel will again be the centre of Jewish life in Shanghai and this will be only the first of modern Jewish weddings to be celebrated here.

As Rabbi Greenberg said in his address at the chupah, “Any chupah is a happy occasion but when a synagogue has waited for a chupa for over 60 years and the day arrives, the joy is huge.” 

This life cycle event is representative of the revival of Jewish life throughout China and a sign of things to come.

(Issue April 2008)