In the Crook of the Rock: Jewish Refuge in a World Gone Mad — The Chaya Leah Walkin Story

In the Crook of the Rock: Jewish Refuge in a World Gone Mad — The Chaya Leah Walkin Story

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Vera Schwarcz

Series: Jewish Identities in Post-Modern Society
ISBN: 9781618117854 (hb) / 9781618117861 (pb)
Pages: 340 pp.; 18 illus.
Publication Date: April 2018

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Focusing upon the life of Chaya Walkin—one little girl from a distinguished Torah lineage in Poland—this book illustrates the inner resources of the refugee community that made possible survival with dignity. Based on a wide variety of sources and languages, this book is crafted around the voice of a child who was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland and start the terrifying journey to Vilna, Kobe, and Shanghai. The Song of Songs is used to provide an unexpected and poetic angle of vision upon strategies for creating meaning in times of historical trauma.

Schwarcz Vera - Photo by Andy Zhou.jpg

Vera Schwarcz was born in Romania and became an historian of China and a poet in the United States. For the past four decades she taught at Wesleyan University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her work was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fullbright Fellowship, a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Lady Davis Fellowship. Schwarcz is the author of nine books about Chinese and Jewish history, including Bridge Across Broken Time: Chinese and Jewish Cultural Memory (Yale University Press, 1989) which was nominated for the National Jewish Book Award and Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China and Beyond (University of Hawai'i Press, 2014). She has also written six books of poetry, including most recently The Physics of Wrinkle Formation (Antrim House, 2015). For more information about her work, visit

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Professor Schwarcz’s eloquent and profound new book is part Holocaust memoir, part Shanghai history, and much more. She goes so deeply into the narrative of Rebbetzin Chaya Leah Small that the story becomes a ‘rabbit’s hole’, a ‘portal’ into ‘the theme of Jewish resilience,’ a phenomenon that has baffled much of the world for centuries. How did we manage to survive, the Dalai Lama asked us, what is the source of your resilience? Schwarcz beautifully ‘juxtaposes global madness and the inner resources of refugees in catastrophic time.’ Sinologist, poet, and theologian, Professor Schwarcz edifies us with her deep analysis and moving prose.
— Nathan Katz, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Florida International University
A variety of personal memoirs about the Jewish experience in Shanghai during World War II have been published in recent years, always presenting an interesting yet subjective experience of the authors. In The Crook of the Rock, Professor Vera Schwarcz masterfully transforms Chaya Leah Walkin’s vivid memories of a young girl experiencing a world gone mad into a powerful historical-cultural document enriched with theological insights. In telling this important story, Schwarcz also offers poignant observations about her own journeys—both in developing a relationship with the subject that changed both their lives and recalling her own childhood diaspora.

Chaya Leah’s is a unique voice shedding a bright light on the little discussed stories of the Polish refugee experience in Shanghai and the Yeshivah families’ indifference to the plight of the majority of German/Austrian Jewish refugees in wartime Shanghai. This book, however, is a song sung by two harmonic voices—the subject, who offers us memories weaved by experience and emotions, and the author, who offers analytical understanding of these memories based on her vast knowledge of both Chinese and Jewish cultures.
— Dvir Bar-Gal, Expert in Shanghai's Jewish History
Schwarcz’s sensitive biography of Chaya Leah Walkin serves as a useful counterpart to Bostoner Rebbetzin Raichel Horowitz’s account of the challenges she faced in transplanting the traditions of Polish Jewish Orthodoxy onto American soil. Unlike Horowitz, Schwarcz details a critically important middle passage between Poland and America. Schwarcz builds upon a cornucopia of Shanghai Jewish studies, especially those of David Kranzler and Irene Eber, to profile a religiously-observant woman within a city of approximately 18,000 other Central and Eastern European Jewish refugees. Shanghai Jews embraced ideologies which ranged from the ultra-Orthodox to the purely secular. Rebbezin Walkin stands distinct as an individual from the Pohost, Lukatch, and Pinsk rabbinic traditions.
— Jonathan Goldstein, Harvard University Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies/University of West Georgia

Table of Contents

A Voice Knocks: Chaya Leah Walkin’s Story Finds Me       


The Virtue of One Vineyard: Jewish Refuge Reconsidered                      

Chapter One
If She Be a Wall: Pohost and Lukatch Before Disaster Strikes          

Chapter Two
Watchmen Patrolling the City: Escape from Vilna to Japan         

Chapter Three
An Apple Tree Nestled in the Woods: Respite in Kobe                                

Chapter Five
Tender Kids Beside the Sheperds' Tents: Starting Anew in Shanghai                           

Chapter Five
In the Crook of the Rock: Expanding The Meaning of Survival                         

Chapter Six
The Vine has Budded: Schooling, Bombings, and Beyond

Chapter Seven
Under the Apple Tree: End of the War, End of Refuge in Shanghai           

Chapter Eight
Before the Shadows of Night Are Gone: Starting a New Life in America                   

Chapter Nine
Until it Ripens: Marriage, Community, and the Arc of Return                      

Seeking Your Voice for the Sake of the Unborn