Fireside Chats

The JHS regularly conducts interviews with members of the Hong Kong Jewish community, where they talk of their personal experiences and family histories. The interviews are conducted in a convivial setting at the Jewish Community Centre, in front of a live audience. All the interviews have been recorded, and the recordings are slowly becoming available for viewing anytime on our YouTube channel:

Jewish Historical Society of HK

George Bloch

George will tell us about his life from childhood in Vienna in the interwar years, the liberal and cultural heart of Europe, through displacement to the Far East via Shanghai and eventually to Hong Kong, where he has prospered as an industrialist, philanthropist and collector of fine art.

Vivienne DiPicciotto

Vivienne’s father was born in Iraq and grew up in Bombay, before making his way to Shanghai.  Her mother was born in Hong Kong and like all Iraqi Jews, her father was a success in his business endeavours.

Born, educated, married and raised in Shanghai, Vivienne came to Hong Kong after the war with her husband and young daughter to start over.  Another daughter was born in HK and several years later a son was born, also in HK in 1966.

Her husband then decided that he wanted to leave HK because of the shaky political situation.  Thus they found their way to Rome where they lived for 20 years.   After her husband’s passing away in 1984, and since her children had already moved away from Rome, Vivienne now felt she wanted to return to HK where her mother and sister were now living.  A place she loves dearly.

Growing up in Shanghai (which was known as “Paris of the East”) Vivienne has some very interesting tales to tell of places she visited and people who crossed her life’s path.

Life in Hong Kong was no less interesting and Vivienne tells us all about it…

Jack Ormut

The range and breadth of Jack’s stories are astonishing. He is one of the few who can tell of life in the shtetl in Poland as a child; he spent his teenage years in the concentration camps; and, having left a ruined Europe for the British Mandate of Palestine, he then went to live in Canada. In 1965, Jack took up the East Asia trade, basing himself in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Since then, on and off, he has been a member of the Hong Kong Jewish community, finally settling here in 1977.

Jack has enjoyed a life full of incident, from a childhood of innocent poverty, through the horror of genocide and the privations of the 1950s, to today’s prosperity and success as the original mensch of Manchu Fashion.

Michael Green

Michael is a fixture in the Jewish community of Hong Kong, serving as a trustee of the Ohel Leah Synagogue Charity. What they may not know is that Michael’s family first arrived in Hong Kong over 100 years ago. His father was born in the former colony, Michael was born in Shanghai and his children are the 4th generation of Greens to live in Hong Kong. As an infant, Michael was interned in a Japanese POW camp with his mother in the Philippines, while his father did hard labour in northern China.

Michael will recount the dramatic story of their internment, subsequent rescue and reunion, their return to Shanghai and finally, their arrival in Hong Kong in 1949.

Eric Beare

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1929, Eric went to school in Durban where he excelled at sports, representing Natal and Transvaal provinces for swimming and Natal schools on the rugby field. At 19, he entered the retail furniture industry and seven years later joined his uncle’s growing Beare Bros group of stores. In 1963, he left South Africa to seek his fortune in Hong Kong. Eric was a pioneer in his line of business in Hong Kong, and he has been a colourful, active and involved member of the Hong Kong Jewish community for over forty years.

Ruth Sulke

Ruth came to Hong Kong in 1949 from London where she had spent much of the Second World War. She was newly married to Walter Sulke, whose family had fled to Shanghai from Nazi Germany. They were unable to return to Shanghai so Ruth and Walter decided to try their luck in Hong Kong. Since then, Ruth has run a magazine, brought up two children and become an ikebana teacher of renown as well as a celebrated artist and sculptor. In between, she found time to race cars and, on Sunday mornings, play poker at the old Jewish Recreation Club while the kids were in cheder. Now dividing her time between London and Hong Kong, we are fortunate to be able to share some of Ruth’s reflections on life in Hong Kong from postwar times up to today.

Raymond Bera

Raymond was born in Shanghai where his parents, an exotic mix of Iberian and Russian, had arrived in the early 1920s via Greece and Siberia. Raymond’s father established a jewellery company in Shanghai in the 1930s and he and his brother secured the rights to represent Omega in China and Hong Kong. In 1948, Raymond and his family left Shanghai and the family’s business interests were transferred to Hong Kong. Raymond joined the family business in 1971.

Robert Dorfman

Rob was born in Tokyo shortly after his parents left China following the Communist takeover. The family later moved to Hong Kong, where he attended primary and secondary school. In 1976, having graduated from the University of Washington, Rob entered the family business of the Herald Group of Companies. Today he sits on the board of directors of Herald. A tireless champion of Hong Kong, Rob is, among many other things, a trustee of the Ohel Leah Synagogue Charity and the chairman of Vision 2047 Foundation.

William Mocatta

William arrived in Hong Kong from London in his early twenties, following in the footsteps of his great-aunt Laura who had made the same journey nearly 100 years earlier. The Mocatta family were Portuguese bullion dealers who fled to London during the Spanish Inquisition of the 1650s. In London they set up Mocatta & Goldsmid Bullion dealers approximately 10 years before the Bank of England came into existence. Among the founding families of the Reform movement in the UK which started at the West London Synagogue in the 1840s, the Mocattas were well known for their generosity and support of Jewish causes. Laura Mocatta’s marriage to Elly Kadoorie in the late 1800s cemented a relationship between the two families which William has carried on to this day, working in the Kadoorie business for the past 30 years.

Sylvain Gilbert

Sylvain was a ‘hidden child’ during the Nazi occupation of Belgium in WWII. Wrested at five years old from the warmth and security of his traditional Jewish family in Antwerp, he was placed with strangers and brought up as a Catholic. The story of his survival and that of his family is remarkable, and one that should be heard.

Robert Green

Bob’s history in the Far East began with service in the United States’ military in Korea. We expect that the highlight of the evening will be hearing how Bob decided to form and found Hong Kong’s first organised Reform Jewish community, the United Jewish Congregation, 20 years ago this month. Bob will also relate how, in 1968, having embarked upon a career as a screenwriter and journalist, he found his way back to Hong Kong to work for Time-Life and NBC, and how, 10 years later, he and his wife Grace came to establish the very successful Amazing Grace Elephant Company.

Sir Michael Kadoorie

Sir Michael’s family was among the founders of the Jewish community in Hong Kong and left an ongoing legacy, not only in the Jewish community but in the wider Hong Kong community as well. His grandfather persuaded the trustees of the Ohel Leah Synagogue to allow a Jewish Club to be built on synagogue land and helped fund the building. His father, Lord Lawrence Kadoorie, and uncle Sir Horace were generous benefactors who involved themselves personally in the welfare of those in need — from the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association, which Sir Horace founded, to making the Peninsula Hotel available to house the waves of emigrating Jewish refugees from Shanghai after WWII. Sir Michael carries on this legacy with energetic dedication and his interview will allow us a personal insight into the life and times of the Kadoorie family in Hong Kong.

Dr. Solomon Bard

Dr. Bard’s life is an extraordinary story, and the following serves as only a brief outline: Born to a Russian Jewish family in Chiba, Eastern Siberia, his family moved to Harbin, where he went to high school and excelled in both violin and flute. He moved to Shanghai in 1932 to finish his schooling and two years later came to study medicine at the University of Hong Kong. When Dr. Bard was newly-married and about to qualify, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong. He served as a medical officer in the Volunteers in the Battle for Hong Kong and was imprisoned by the Japanese in the notorious Sham Shui Po camp.

After the War, Dr. Bard taught and practised medicine in Hong Kong, as did his wife, Sophie. He energetically pursued his abiding love of music, playing in and conducting the Sino-British Orchestra, later to become the HK Philharmonic Orchestra, and the HK Chinese orchestra. Dr. Bard was also active in improving public hygiene and establishing public health provision.

Frank Stock

Justice Stock was born in what was then Rhodesia, the son of German refugees who had fled from the Nazis. He came to Hong Kong in 1978 to join the Attorney General’s Chambers, now the Department of Justice and has enjoyed a distinguished legal career in Hong Kong since then. He was appointed as a QC in 1985, and as Solicitor General a year later. As Solicitor-General, he was closely involved in the numerous legal issues relating to the impending handover of Hong Kong to the PRC. In 1992, Frank left practice to become a High Court judge, and in 2000 joined the Court of Appeal, becoming a Vice President of that court earlier this year.

Brought up in a traditional and observant Jewish home, Frank lived with his mother’s distress of losing her entire family in the concentration camps. This, together with his experience of racial discrimination in Rhodesia contributed to his commitment to the pursuit of justice, which he has pursued throughout his career.

Frank is a man of many parts. A fine singer, he enjoys a reputation both in the legal community and outside as a wit and humorist.

Henry Steiner

Born in Austria before the Anschluss, Henry Steiner went to the US as a child. In 1964, not long after studying at the Sorbonne and graduating from Yale, Henry set himself up in Hong Kong to practice graphic design. Within a short time, he was designing banknotes for HSBC, and then for others, and masterminding corporate identity marks before we even knew what a logo was.

Forty-six years later, we will be asking why and how Henry came to Hong Kong; how and why he has stayed and about his complex identity — being Jewish, American, a Hongkonger, Austrian and ‘an alien’ through the years.

Michael Hartmann

The Hon. Mr. Justice Michael Hartmann arrived in Hong Kong from Zimbabwe in 1983 to work at the Legal Department of the Hong Kong Government. He joined the Judiciary in 1991 as a District Court judge, was appointed as a High Court judge in 1998, and then as a Justice of Appeal in 2008. Last year, Michael was appointed as a non-permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal. A published author as well as an accomplished lawyer, Michael will be talking to us about his background, against the political turmoil of Zimbabwe, and his role in some of the leading cases in Hong Kong.

Anneke Patria

Born in Amsterdam and growing up as a young child as the Second World War gripped Europe, Anneke witnessed first-hand the horrors of Nazi oppression. Not only did she have to cope at a tender age with the bitter divorce of her parents, but also being separated from her sisters when they were all split up and sent into hiding. Anneke was rescued from the traumas of a troubled adolescence by her love of dancing — leading to a career in dance that took her from the Lido de Paris to the Moulin Rouge and then, in 1969, to Hong Kong. A well-known and much loved personality in Hong Kong, Anneke shares her memories of war-torn Europe and life in Hong Kong during the last 40 years.

Clive Grossman

Born in wartime London, Clive Grossman moved to southern Rhodesia at 7 years of age, and his family engaged in life in the Ashkenazi Jewish community whilst the mothers of the nearby Sephardic community kept their daughters safe from the rascal boys of the congregation next door. He left school at the age of 16, served in the military and rose through the ranks in the intelligence and interrogation units. After becoming a successful lawyer in Rhodesia, he moved to Hong Kong in 1983, following upon Mugabe’s election victory, when the country was renamed Zimbabwe. Since that time, Clive became not only Hong Kong’s leading criminal defence barrister but also an essential member of our Jewish community. After leaving the government where he was the Deputy Crown Prosecutor, Clive went into private practice at the Hong Kong Bar, heading his own chambers.

Join us for a night of more anecdotes than you thought possible. (Clive is the man with the One Hundred Trillion dollar bank note!)

Avi Nagar

Avi has lived in Hong Kong for some 30 years. Born in Israel to a Yemenite father and Israeli mother, Avi grew up as a Yeshiva boy going on to study philosophy and Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University before following his father in the diamond business. He has been involved in many significant developments in Hong Kong Jewish life, including the establishment of the Carmel School and a committee member of the Ohel Leah synagogue. In fact, there are few events in Jewish life in Hong Kong in which Avi has not played a role! Married to Penina, they have three daughters and Hong Kong is very much home for the Nagar family.

Robert Meyer

A graduate of Columbia University (where he created the Jewish student organisation), Bob is passionate about Jewish history, Israel and the Tanach. Hong Kong has been his home since 1978, where he practiced as a US lawyer for several years before going into business by co-founding the First Pacific group. He has been active in the Jewish community throughout his time in HK, with the UJC – which he co-founded and where he used to lead services – the UIA, the HK Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Times Asia and a variety of other Community organizations.

David Zweig

David, who is Chair Professor of Social Science at The HK University of Science and Technology, came to Hong Kong with his family in 1996, but before that he had been a frequent visitor to Hong Kong and the PRC, and he provides early and searing insights into modern China.

David was born in Toronto to a Conservative Jewish family, he is a fluent Mandarin speaker and is also conversant in Hebrew. There are few who do not recall or have not learned of the illness suffered by his son, Aaron, an event that brought the entire HK Jewish community together to secure the Berlin heart machine for Hong Kong, undoubtedly saving Aaron’s life.

Join us as we listen to David’s stories of the PRC opening up to the outside world, his role in helping those outside the PRC understand that transition, and of his life and contribution to Jewish life in Hong Kong.

Mark Ejlenberg

Mark, who is visiting us from Israel, first arrived in Hong Kong in the 1980s as a young banker from Holland. With his wife Vera and their two small children, they immersed themselves in all aspects of Jewish life here, with Mark joining the committee of the JRC (in the days before the property was redeveloped) and later taking on the chairmanship. He was a proactive chairman, steering the Club towards a more “Jewish” approach to catering by introducing steady supplies of Kosher food; establishing the Jewish Historical Society with Denis Leventhal and SJ Chan; supporting the publication of the community newsletter, HK Jewish Chronicle, which was put together by Vera and a team of friends, and both of them were active in the Sunday School, which eventually morphed into the impressive Carmel School we have today.

Mark has fascinating stories to tell of those times, and his lasting contribution to Jewish life here remains a testament to the time and effort he dedicated to our Community in the years he was in HK.