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The Journal of Rabbi Levy Wang [NOOK Book]

Overview

1937 China; the Japanese Imperial Army is chewing up China. Three middle-aged friends, Westerners, who have lived in China for decades, are about to lose everything to the onslaught. Leave China or die.

As their world is collapsing around them, Harry, a fur trader from New York, Mischa, a Russian whose family had moved over the border from Siberia to Harbin when he was a young man, and Mendel, a Rabbi from Germany, learn that a race of Chinese Jews are about to become victims of...

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The Journal of Rabbi Levy Wang

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Overview

1937 China; the Japanese Imperial Army is chewing up China. Three middle-aged friends, Westerners, who have lived in China for decades, are about to lose everything to the onslaught. Leave China or die.

As their world is collapsing around them, Harry, a fur trader from New York, Mischa, a Russian whose family had moved over the border from Siberia to Harbin when he was a young man, and Mendel, a Rabbi from Germany, learn that a race of Chinese Jews are about to become victims of a German and Japanese alliance to acquire a valuable ruby which supposedly is in their village of Kaifeng.

The three friends decide to embark on one last adventure before leaving China, to save the Jews of Kaifeng and the jewel. Can they reach Kaifeng before the alliance bent on the destruction of the village gets to them? It is a race across 1937 China, through Japanese controlled territory, Chinese bandits, and countless dangers and obstacles.

Finding the ruby, also, will not be easy, as the jewel disappeared in 1916, the only clues to its location written in a cryptic, twenty year old diary written by a disillusioned Chinese Rabbi; the ‘Journal of Rabbi Levy Wang’. As well as the Japanese and the Germans, the adventure becomes deadlier as the pursuit is joined by an opium-dealing mobster from San Francisco, as well as the murderous ‘Empress Wu’ and her army of goons.

Has Harry, Mischa, and Mendel attempted more than they can pull off? Will they survive the deadly race to warn their friends and find the jewel? As well, the window of opportunity for foreigners to get out of China before the country is shut down completely by the Japanese Army is rapidly closing. Will they be able to leave China before facing execution or internment? The three friends are tested to the extreme.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452516257
  • Publisher: Balboa Press
  • Publication date: 6/11/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • File size: 422 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Journal of Rabbi Levy Wang


By David Harris Lang

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2014 David Harris Lang
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-1626-4


CHAPTER 1

Hong Kong, 1937


In the early morning, as the last of the stars disappeared in the sky and the pink glow of the rising sun shimmered on the ocean, the Empress of Asia pulled into Victoria Harbor, a short stop on its journey to Qingdao, China, from Seattle. Henry and Harry Cohen, father and son, stood on the forward deck and admired the beauty of Hong Kong Island. Green peaks rose dramatically behind five- and six-story buildings clustered shoulder to shoulder around the harbor. The recently completed thirteen-story Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building dominated the skyline. On the Kowloon side, Henry could make out "The Pen," the elegant Peninsula Hotel.

Triple-sailed junks with high poop decks, red flags flying high from the mast for good luck, crisscrossed the busy harbor. Low-slung sampans with whole families living on them bobbed in the waves, on deck moms with babies strapped to their backs cooking, or hanging laundry from the battens, the men tending to their nets.

"I feel like I am going to a funeral. How come you're so calm, Dad?" Henry asked.

For over a decade, from their base in Tianjin, China, Harry had been trading silver for furs on the Mongolian plains and shipping the pelts back to New York. Henry had joined the business a few years back when he had graduated.

The year 1937, however, was bad for China. The Japanese Imperial Army was aggressively taking over the country. Harry and Henry were going back to China one last time to shut down their business. "It is out of our control, Henry. The Japanese are going to chew up the country and spit it out. Anyone caught in the middle will get chewed up too," Harry said.

"What a shame! All you've built over a decade, lost," Henry said.

Harry shrugged. "We'll survive. So will China. There'll be some sad stories, but eventually China will bounce back."

Standing at the rail and looking out at the endless horizon, feeling the power of the ocean liner as it cut through the choppy waves, the salt breeze in his face, Henry thought, Yes, sad stories, but there are going to be stories of bravery too. There is going to be some ass-kicking, and that is the part of this that I am going to be involved with!

When the ocean liner docked at Tsim Sha Tsui wharf, Henry turned to Harry and said, "Hey, Dad, we've got about twenty-four hours before the ship leaves for China. I'm going to do a little exploring. I'll see you tonight."

"You are twenty-two, Son. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can ask you to be careful."

"Of course I will, Dad. By the way, do you have any Hong Kong?"

Harry took a roll of US dollars, Chinese yuan, and Hong Kong dollar bills from his pocket. He peeled off some of the Hong Kong currency and gave it to Henry.

"Thanks, Dad."

Henry bounded down the gangplank, past swarms of sampans floating alongside the dock. From the landmark Kowloon-Canton Railway Station Clock Tower, he walked east. Henry was headed to the ghettos on the east side of Kowloon, a maze of six-story buildings and dark, filthy alleyways—Henry's favorite part of Hong Kong.

The buildings of East Kowloon had evolved organically, like a cancer, with no permits or architect's plans, packed so densely that the light of day never reached the bottom floors. Twenty-four-hour darkness. Wet, hot, moldy walls, pipes dripping sewage, it was as if the buildings were sweating. Rats as big as Jack Russell Terriers. Neighborhoods so dangerous that police never entered. Addicts, triads, and merchants who operated outside the law. Henry was fascinated by East Kowloon.

Henry, although thrilled by the potential danger, was mostly attracted to East Kowloon by how the whole messy complex worked. The ghetto of was a testament to the adaptability and resilience of the Chinese people, mainlanders who had come to Hong Kong with nothing but a hope for a better life. Always that spark of hope remained, if not for them, for their children. Henry was fascinated by the normalcy of life carried out in a backdrop of hell. People here lived in a world that was so interconnected that someone in one building could reach through their barred window and pass dumplings to a friend in the next building. Lines between residence and commerce were blurred—a part of a living room was a beauty parlor, part of a bedroom was a hardware store, part of a kitchen was a dental office. The demarcation between what was public and what was private was fuzzy. The complexity was beyond the understanding of someone who did not live there.

As soon as he entered the stench and darkness of the narrow alleyways, Henry knew he was being watched. People living in such close proximity to one another knew everyone and noted every movement that passed through their territory. A Chinese stranger was noticed within seconds, a foreigner even quicker than that.

Henry was about fifty yards into the complex, but he might as well as been have been a mile in. As he turned a corner, the narrow alleyway became a pork shop. Swarms of black flies buzzed around four bloody carcasses hung by metal hooks from a metal rod stretched across the alley, the walls of the alley splattered with pigs' blood. A wooden table had been set up in the middle of the path, and a partially chopped-up carcass lay on it. Two shirtless, skinny men wearing rubber aprons stood next to the table with bloody cleavers in their hands. They stopped chopping and glared at Henry as he passed. A woman in black pajamas crouched at the side of the alley next to a bucket of bloody pig parts—the sales area.

All his senses were on high alert, and his heart beat a little faster as Henry continued around another bend. He heard a tinkling sound, and a group of schoolgirls passed him wearing small bells around their necks, their eyes wide in wonder at the white ghost who had ventured into their territory. Parents in the Kowloon ghetto had their young children wear bells to scare off the rats.

As he ventured farther, Henry's attention was drawn to an open shop filled with bottles of traditional Chinese medicines. Bare electric bulbs were suspended from the ceiling, illuminating dust motes floating in the warm, sticky air, the exposed wiring like a colony of snakes on the ceiling. Entering, Henry strolled past ancient yellowed glass jars of ground-up deer antler and tiger penis, finding, to his surprise, shelves of books for sale in the rear of the tiny shop.

The proprietor of the shop, a skeletal man in a gray, short-sleeved shirt, sat behind a wooden counter and watched Henry as he wandered the shop, as someone might eye a dangerous animal that had wandered into his vicinity. Henry walked up to him, and knowing that his mastery of Mandarin would be useless in Cantonese Hong Kong, he asked in English, "Do you have any English books?"

The man wordlessly reached under the counter. Henry wondered if he was reaching for a weapon. However, the bony hand came up clutching a tattered, leather-bound book, which he laid on the counter. Henry picked it up. The title read Mysteries of the World. It was authored by Sir Oliver Reddington.

"Great, I'll take it," Henry said, delighted with his find. The old man held up two fingers, and Henry placed two Hong Kong dollars on the grimy counter. He left the shop, slipping his new book in jacket pocket, planning to retrace his steps to return to the dock.

However, after a few turns, Henry realized he was in territory he had not walked through before. He was lost. He entered a small court. A group of men was standing around a folding table set up in the center of the court. Laid out on the table on a white cloth were numerous oval green stones. Harry realized that he had stumbled into the middle of a Triad jade deal.

Excellent-quality jade was available in Hong Kong, but there was also a huge market in fake jade, doctored so cleverly that even an expert would have difficulty assessing its value. Buyers from the mainland found it lucrative to buy the fake products in Hong Kong and resell it in China as the real thing.

Behind the table of gems stood a fat man in orange silk pajamas, sunglasses, and a bad haircut. Next to him were four goons, two on either side, muscular men with scarred faces. The four men in front of the table—the customers—were obviously mainlanders.

The loud singsong chatter of Cantonese stopped short, and all turned and stared as Henry rounded the corner and entered the alleyway. The goons pulled meat cleavers from their belts.

Henry Cohen, star sprinter of the 1930 University of Pennsylvania track team, bolted like a greyhound for another opening in the alley. He ran through living rooms and markets, up stairs, and down passages so narrow that his shoulders brushed the green and black mold off the side walls.

He eventually popped out of the ghetto complex and was back on the waterfront walking toward the sampans and the Clock Tower, catching his breath. There was a smile across his face as he patted the new book in his pocket. "Great adventure!"

Back on the Empress of Asia, Henry found his dad sitting on deck in a comfortable lounge chair with a lemonade in his hand. Henry sat down next to him.

"Good trip, Son?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, I really like Hong Kong," Henry said. He took Mysteries of the World from his jacket pocket and opened it to a page marked by a leather bookmark. He had not noticed the bookmark before. The chapter he opened to was titled, "The Moses Jewel." Henry started to read and was instantly caught up in the tale, not closing the book until he had finished.

"Dad, this book talks about the Kaifeng Jews!" Henry exclaimed to Harry.

"Really?" Harry asked. "The Kaifeng Jews? Our Kaifeng Jews?"

Both Henry and Harry had visited the small community of Chinese Jews living in central China many times. The current residents looked no different than other Chinese from generations of intermarriage. However, they wore yarmulkes, had mezuzahs on their doors, and did not eat pork. Harry and Henry had a fondness in their hearts for the community.

"Yes, our Kaifeng Jews," Henry said. "The book says God gave Moses a staff with a ruby on it. This jewel eventually was taken, via the Silk Road, to Kaifeng by the Jews, who settled there. However, in the early 1900s the Kaifeng rabbi, Rabbi Levy Wang, became disillusioned with the congregation and the faith, took the jewel, and disappeared. No one has seen Levy Wang or the jewel since. The ruby became known as the Moses Jewel."

"Interesting. I never heard of the Moses Jewel. Do you believe it?" Harry asked.

"Sure, I believe it." Henry said. "It is definitely one of the great mysteries of the world. Perhaps the ruby is still in China."

CHAPTER 2

Kiessling's Bakery, Tianjin, 1937


Harry Cohen sat at a round table by the window in his favorite corner of Kiessling's Bakery and admired his apple fritter. Harry looked around the spacious dining hall, the wood paneling, the high ceilings with the delicate chandeliers, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the high windows. The bakery evoked an aura of European sensibilities. Outside the large windows of Kiessling's Bakery were the disorder, noise, filth, and bustle of Tianjin. Inside all was calm. Kiessling's was going to be one of the things that Harry was going to miss about China.

Harry took a mouthful of the apple fritter. He was waiting for his two best friends, Mischa and Mendel. He had received a note from Mischa two days ago to meet him and the rabbi here at 3:00 p.m. At 3:00 p.m. sharp, Harry saw Mischa and the rabbi moving through the busy dining hall toward his table. Rabbi Mendel Slavin was a hippopotamus of a man—a hippopotamus wearing a yarmulke. He was a German Jew who had arrived in China two decades ago. His girth led the way toward Harry's table, Mischa barely visible as he walked behind the rabbi. Harry stood up to greet them.

Mischa Shatunovsky had been born in Siberia. When he was three years old, his family had moved over the Russian border to Harbin to escape the Jewish persecution in Russia.

"Harrrrrrrrry! Magnificent to see you."

"Rabbi, Mischa."

"Sit, sit," said the rabbi.

As soon as all three had sat down, Anne Kiessling materialized at the table, and all three popped up again. Anne and her husband were the owners of Kiessling's. The rabbi's love for food was legendary, and Harry had no doubt Mendel was a major contributor to the Kiesslings' bottom line.

"Annnnne," said the rabbi, enveloping her in a big hug. Anne Kiessling was not a small woman, but for a moment she completely disappeared from sight in the rabbi's crumpled white shirt and long, black jacket.

The three men sat down again. "Anne, I will have the blintzes," said the rabbi. Then in a hushed tone, as if it was a secret between the two, he said, "Extra sour cream on the side, please." Then turning toward Mischa, he asked, "Mischa?"

"Just coffee for me, Anne."

"Okay, boys, be right back," Anne said, running off to the kitchen.

Mendel said to Harry, "So, Harry, how is Henry doing?"

"He's good. He returned to America two weeks ago," Harry said. "He plans to enlist, though, once we finalize wrapping up the business. I am worried about that."

"Of course, but I commend him for his courage." The rabbi pulled out a letter and placed it on the table. "Read this, Harry."

The blintzes and the coffee arrived, and Harry read the letter as Rabbi Slavin lovingly and voraciously consumed Anne Kiessling's three rolled crepes, extra sour cream on the side. When Harry had finished reading and the rabbi's plate was clean, Harry flipped open his black cloisonné cigarette case embossed with the words "Horse Thief" in gold, a birthday gift from friends a few years back. He offered the case to the other men, and they each took a cigarette.

The rabbi looked appreciatively at the cigarette and said, "Camels, great. I have only been able to get Taiyangs the last few months. Chinese do not know from making cigarettes." Mischa pulled out a match book and lit everyone's cigarettes.

Harry said, "This letter you asked me to read is from an informant in Goering's office. So, you have an informant in Goering's office, Mendel?"

"Yes. I received this letter from him three days ago."

"You are talking about the Goering's office, right? You actually have an informant?" Harry asked again.

"Yes, Harry, the Goering, the morphine-addicted Iron Fatty. The leader of the Nazi Gestapo, who, as we all know, has an appetite for appropriating Jewish art and valuables for himself."

Harry looked back down at the letter. The text read:

G. was given diary of German missionary to China from 1600s. Learned of Chinese Jews and valuable ruby called Moses Jewel in Kaifeng. Must have for himself, sending troops to eliminate Kaifeng Jews and find ruby. Power struggle among higher-ups, results in R. H. being sent.


"A coincidence, Henry was just talking to me about the Moses Jewel and the Kaifeng Jews a few weeks ago," Harry said. He looked up at the rabbi. "Who is R. H.?"

"Chief deputy of the Gestapo, Reinhard Heydrich. Have you heard of Heydrich, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, he is the one they call Die Hebbe, the Goat." "Yes, the Goat because as he murders his victims, his high-pitched laugh sounds like the bleating of a goat. A true nut case. Goering has sent him with ten Wehrmacht to acquire the jewel and bring it back to Germany. He is to meet with the Japanese in Mukden. Goering is friends with some Japanese lieutenant general who runs a military camp there."

"Why would the Germans not go to Kaifeng and look for the jewel themselves? Why involve the Japanese?" Harry asked.

The rabbi answered, "The Germans cannot just come to China and start killing people. That would be bad press for them. The Japanese can, however. They already are."

"True."

Mendel continued. "I am sure that Goering will instruct Heydrich not to tell the Japanese about the jewel. His mission will be to convince the Japanese to add the Kaifeng Jews to their list of the Chinese people they are already slaughtering, while Heydrich finds the jewel."

Harry pursed his lips and exhaled. "Germans and Japanese together, aiiyaah, what a thought!" Harry took a sip of his coffee. "Even if this Moses Jewel does exist, and even if the Nazis are coming after it, what can we do about it?"

"For one thing we can warn the Kaifeng Jews. Next, we can find the jewel," Mischa said, leaning toward Harry as he spoke. "Harry, these are our Kaifeng Jews. Our friends. They are in danger."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Journal of Rabbi Levy Wang by David Harris Lang. Copyright © 2014 David Harris Lang. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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