Underscoring U.S. appeals for greater religious freedom in China, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Wednesday toured a 78-year-old synagogue in Shanghai that was reno-vated with Chinese money after years of official neglect.
The Ohel Rachel Synagogue, one of the last links to an era when tens of thousands of Jews called Shanghai home, was used as a warehouse until two months ago.
Hillary Clinton toured the building for 20 minutes and witnessed the donation of a Torah to Shanghai's Jewish community. She called the restoration of the synagogue "a very good example of respect for religious differences and appreciation for the importance of faith in one's life."
But China's atheist government, which maintains strict controls over religion, has not given permission for the building to be used as a place of worship.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who accompanied Clinton to the synagogue, later met with Chinese spiritual leaders to discuss religion, including Roman Catholic Bishop Alyosuis Jin Luxian, 82, who spent 27 years in prison related to his work in the church.
The synagogue's restoration, costing more than $60,000, was prompted by a promise from Shang-hai Mayor Xu Kuangdi to reopen it as a historic site. Located on a narrow, traffic-filled street in central Shanghai, the synagogue's stucco walls have been repainted a crisp white.
Hillary Clinton looked at a photographic exhibition detailing the long history of the Jewish community in Shanghai and the city's role as a haven for some 20,000 Jews who sought refuge here from Hitler's Germany. By the end of World War II, during which Japanese soldiers used the synagogue as a stable, the Jewish population had reached an estimated 24,000.